According to a report in the German newspaper Die Welt, translated with computer assistance by the Washington Times, the suspect is a newly-arrived Pakistani refugee.
Der Tagesspiegel, another Berlin daily paper, reported that the man was Pakistani, had arrived in Germany in February and was living in refugee housing.
Der Tagesspiegel reported that the suspect, identified as 23-year-old Naved B, was known to police for multiple minor offenses, was found to be in possession of fake IDs, but had not made the radar of Germany’s anti-terror watch list. The DPA press agency reported that the suspect used multiple names, making it difficult for authorities to confirm his actual identity.
So confusing was the suspect’s true identity that later Tuesday the German government expressed doubt that they had the right man. Some reports quoted a senior German police chief saying “We have the wrong man” and the real killer is believed still on the loose.
Angela Merkel is up for re-election this year and her candidacy is sent reeling by the latest attack. Germany has experienced a string of Islamic terror attacks over the past year, including one incident in which an 17 year old Afghan refugee went on a stabbing spree on a train, injuring several Germans critically.
The interior minister of the German state of Saarland said on Tuesday Germany is now in a state of war.
“We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this,” the minister, Klaus Bouillon, told German broadcaster SR.
The incident happened Monday evening as darkness descended on one of Berlin’s largest Christmas markets, in the western Charlottenburg district. It is also close to Berlin’s key shopping district, Kurfuerstendamm, and a famous tourist site, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.
Police have apprehended a refugee they believe was the driver, who tried to run from police after driving the truck, which had Polish license plates, up over the sidewalk and into the crowded market. A dead man was found in the passenger seat of the truck, police confirmed via Twitter.
A photograph posted by the German newspaper Morgenpost showed damaged tables and craft booths.
Local newspapers reported it was “not immediately clear” whether the incident was an accident or a deliberate attack on the market.
But, if past incidents are any indication, all the signs point to Islamic terrorism.
The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in November noting that it had “credible information” of terror attacks at Christmas and holiday events, including Christmas markets.
And it was just five months ago that a Muslim terrorist hopped in a truck and ran over and killed 86 people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. It was three weeks ago, on Nov. 28, that a Somali Muslim refugee at Ohio State University rammed his vehicle into a crowd of students, then got out and stabbed them, injuring 11.
It was one year ago that Sayyid Farook, born of Pakistani immigrants, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, slaughtered 14 people at an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, California.
According to Berliner Zeitung, the truck veered off Budapester Strasse in West Berlin and stopped just before the Christmas tree on the square. The street has been cordoned off and a meeting point for relatives has been set up.
One witness, Emma Rushton, told local newspapers the truck plowed through the market, adding that people had been crushed.
A video released of the aftermath on YouTube shows bloody spots on the pavement and smashed market booths. Sirens can be heard blaring in the background.
Watch video of aftermath of Islamic terror attack on Berlin Christmas market:
“It looked like [it was done] on purpose,” a police officer who witnessed the incident told Berliner Zeitung.
The incident mimicked the attack in France in July when a Tunisian-born Muslim man drove a 19-ton commercial truck along the beach front, mowing down people who had gathered to watch the fireworks on Bastille Day, killing 86 people. That attack was claimed by Islamic State, also called ISIS.
In fact ISIS has recently called for more attacks and specifically on Christmas markets in Germany.
Just last week Germany narrowly avoided tragedy when a 12-year-old boy, born of Muslim refugees from Iraq, tried twice to plant an explosive device at a Christmas market that failed to detonate, German officials said.
Earlier this year, a 16-year-old girl, identified only as Safia S., was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, aggravated assault and support of a foreign terrorist organization. Federal prosecutors say Islamic State operatives ordered her to commit an “act of martyrdom” and helped plan her knife attack on a policeman in Hannover in late February.
The truck careened into the Berlin market at what would have been one of the most crowded times for the Christmas market, when adults and children would be gathering in the traditional cluster of wooden huts that sell food and handmade Christmas gifts.
“I heard a big noise and then I moved on the Christmas market and saw much chaos…many injured people,” Jan Hollitzer, deputy editor in chief of Berliner Morgenpost, told CNN.
Police shut down the Christmas market and sealed it off, then set up an area for the relatives of the injured.
Emma Rushton, a tourist visiting Berlin, told CNN the truck seemed to be traveling at about 40 mph.
Julian Reichelt, editor in chief of Bild Berlin, said that there was a massive security operation under way.
“The scene certainly looks like a reminder of what we have seen in Nice,” Reichelt told Reuters.
Lorry’s owner: This is my cousin
Matthew Day in Warsaw writes:
Ariel Zurawski, the owner of the lorry, told Polish television: “This is my cousin. I’ve known him since birth. I have faith in him, this is not the man I know, they have done something to him.”
Mr Zurawski said he believed his cousin and had been high jacked and his lorry stolen.
“I can say hand on heart that the man who drove into those people in the centre of Berlin was not my driver.”
He added that the driver had left Italy and was staying in Berlin where he was due to drop off his cargo of steel elements. The laden lorry weighed about 25 tonnes.
Mr Zurawski said his cousin had been in the profession for 15 years and was an experienced driver. “His wife had talked with about noon but after 4pm she could not get hold of him.”
The lorry’s owner added: “My wife told me they had found a body in the cab. From what they say it could be my driver. My cousin. Please forgive me but I can’t talk any more now.”
Poland’s foreign ministry said on Monday night that it had no information on the nationality of the driver.