A black semi-truck plowed through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, injuring at least 50 people and killing nine. The 18-wheeler drove over a sidewalk and slammed into the popular market by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church around 8 p.m on Monday night. The truck’s windshield was smashed out but otherwise there was not much damage done to the truck. Among the crashed truck and swarms of ambulances, a large Christmas tree had fallen over nearby the street.
Authorities report that a passenger in the truck died at the scene, but police have arrested a suspect who may have been the driver. German authorities believe this was a deliberate attack, the New York Times reports; federal prosecutors in Germany who work with terrorism cases are now involved in the investigation. However, state interior minister Andreas Geisel, who is Berlin’s top security official, told a German TV station that it was too early to confirm whether it was an attack or an accident.
The truck’s information indicates it was registered in Poland. The owner of the truck claimed that his cousin was driving the vehicle and that it was possibly hijacked while he was scheduled to unload in Berlin the following morning. But Geisel said reports that the truck was hijacked was “pure speculation” at the moment.
A witness at the scene, Mike Fox, told The Associated Press that night that the large truck missed him by about 10 feet as it rammed into the market, tearing through tables and wooden stands. “It was definitely deliberate,” he emphasized. The English tourist explained that he helped people who seemed to have broken limbs, while others were trapped under Christmas stands. The Berlin police encourage people to use a Facebook safety check to learn if loved ones are safe.
Whether or not it was an attack, it is absolutely a tragedy, especially in a place that hosts the Christmas festivities. We only hope that the families who are now mourning rather than celebrating find some closure soon.
As of Tuesday, ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack and German authorities are treating the case as an act of terrorism. The ISIS Amaq news agency said in a statement, “the person who carried out the truck run-over attack in Berlin is a soldier of the Islamic State and carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition.”
It’s unusual as Germany has hardly been involved in the fight against the Islamic State, as indicated by the Associated Press. But this attack does have echoes of one that was committed earlier this year in Nice, France. On July 14th, a truck drove into a crowd during Bastille Day, the national holiday, killing 86 people. The Islamic State also claimed responsibility for that attack as well.
The owner of the truck said the driver, 37-year-old Lukasz Urban, was stabbed and shot to death in the cabin of the truck, meaning he was the first victim of the attack. The total death toll is now up to 12 people.