Merkel: 'We must assume Berlin attack was terror related'

By Angus McNeice in London | | Updated: 2016-12-20 21:40

Merkel: 'We must assume Berlin attack was terror related'

Police stand guard at a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany, Dec 19, 2016 after a truck ploughed into the crowded Christmas market in the German capital. [Photo/Agencies]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said authorities are acting under the assumption that a truck ramming that claimed the lives of 12 and injured 48 in Berlin on Monday was terror-related.

Police are questioning a 23-year-old Pakistani national suspected of intentionally plowing a seven-ton truck through a crowded Christmas market in the German capital.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported senior police officers in Berlin as saying it was not clear if the man was the driver.

The suspect, named only as Naved B, arrived in Berlin this February, according to German media, citing security sources. He had been living in a refugee center in south-central Berlin and was known to police as a petty criminal but was not suspected of having links to terror groups, according to media reports.

"It would be very difficult for us to learn that a human being who came to Germany to ask for refuge and asylum committed this deed,” Merkel said in an address on national television. "It would be terrible for all Germans who are very active, day by day, in helping asylum seekers and refugees."

Police confirmed that 48 injured were taken to Berlin hospitals and a further 12 were killed, including a Polish passenger found dead in the truck. Police apprehended the suspect driver 2 km from the scene after a witness followed him on foot.

Investigators are analyzing the suspect’s communications data to ascertain whether the man had been "coached” by individuals from outside Germany prior to the attack.

The ramming adds to mounting tensions in Europe after a spate of terror-related incidents. On Monday, the Russian Ambassador to Turkey, Andrey Karlov was shot and killed in Ankara by an unnamed off-duty policeman - the Russian foreign ministry has since declared the shooting a terror attack. The attacker was later shot dead by Turkish special forces.

Also on Monday, a man shot and wounded three people at an Islamic center in Zurich - police later found the shooter dead near the scene, and have not released any information linking the attack to terror groups.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying expressed condolences to the families of the Russian ambassador and other victims, and said the ministry is trying to ascertain whether any Chinese nationals were harmed in the Berlin attack.

Li Wei, director of the Institute for Security and Arms Control Studies at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, expressed concern such attacks would be on the rise next year due to unresolved conflict in Syria and Iraq.

Thirty-two civilians and three perpetrators died in a series of coordinated suicide bombings in Brussels in March. In July, a Tunisian-born man drove a truck through a crowd in Nice, France, killing 84 and injuring 202 - the worst terror attack on French soil since the November 2015 bombings and shootings that resulted in 180 deaths and over 360 injuries in the Paris region.

A UK government security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the attacks in Germany and Switzerland followed the latest model of terror attacks.

"Because ISIS is being forced to retreat in the Middle East, they no longer have such a strong infrastructure which allows them to initiate coordinated attacks such as those in Paris and Belgium," he said. "They’ve opted for what we call the lone wolf style of attack, much harder for intelligence services to track."

Agencies contributed to this story.

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