Christmas Market Attack Case Against Berlin Suspect Crumbles
On Monday night, police thought they had managed to capture the driver who had rammed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin. Now, the case is crumbling and the true attacker may still be at large.
Even as senior security and police officials in Berlin have now concluded that Monday night's attack on a Christmas market near the Zoologischer Garten train station was terrorist in nature, doubts are increasingly growing as to whether the man they took into custody on Monday night was involved in the attack, which saw a semi-truck plow through the Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 48, 18 of them seriously.
The man, who has been identified in the German press as a 23-year-old from Pakistan named Naved B. and who entered Germany via the Balkan Route on Dec. 31, 2015, has consistently denied his involvement in the attack, say police. Furthermore, other clues being pursued by investigators have failed to add up.
It could very well be, said German Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank in Berlin on Tuesday afternoon, "that the man taken into custody may not be the perpetrator or part of the group of perpetrators." He went on to say that it wasn't clear if the perpetrator was acting alone or as part of a group.
Meanwhile, Holger Münch, the head of the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA), which is leading the investigation into Monday's attacks, said: "We don't know if there was just one perpetrator. The murder weapon hasn't been found. That's why we are deeply alarmed."
The murder weapon Münch is referring to is the one used to kill the dead Polish man found in the truck's passenger seat. The man is thought to work for the Poland-based shipping agent to whom the truck belongs. The agent says that he lost contact with his driver at 4 p.m. on Monday afternoon, four hours before the attack. Police believe he was killed prior to the truck being driven through the Christmas market and SPIEGEL has learned that he was shot once in the head with a small-caliber weapon.
No Gunshot Residue
Once the truck came to a stop at the base of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a monument in western Berlin to the damage inflicted on the city during World War II, an eyewitness saw the driver get out of the truck and flee. The witness followed the man and called the police, leading to the arrest of Naved B. not far away at the Victory Column in the middle of nearby Tiergarten park.
SPIEGEL has learned, however, that the witness actually lost sight of the man prior to calling police and merely provided officials a description of the driver. That description is what led to the arrest of Naved B. at the Victory Column. Previous media reports gave the impression that the witness had been able to follow the driver all the way to the site of his arrest.
There are other indications to support the growing skepticism about Naved B.'s involvement in the attack. SPIEGEL learned from a senior investigator that investigators were unable to find any gunshot residue on the suspect's body of the kind typically found on those who have fired a weapon. Nor did he exhibit any indications of having been involved in a struggle. Furthermore, investigators say that blood-stained clothes were found in the cab of the truck, but that the clothes worn by Naved B. did not show any blood stains at all.
Earlier on Tuesday afternoon, Berlin-based daily Die Welt quoted a senior security official as saying: "We have the wrong man." The official went on to say that the situation had changed and that the "real perpetrator" was still "armed and at large and could cause more harm."
German Federal Prosecutor Peter Frank believes the attack has a terrorist background though he emphasized that there has as yet been no claim of responsibility by Islamic State or any other terrorist organization. He said that the target and method chosen suggests an Islamist attack and he noted the parallels to the attack in July in the French city of Nice, where a truck killed at least 86 people and injured hundreds more.
Following Monday evening's attack, the federal police force has significantly increased its presence in Berlin and in the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds the capital, particularly at Berlin's two airports and at train stations.
With reporting by Sven Röbel