A semi-truck plowed into a Christmas market in the crowded heart of Berlin on Monday evening at around 8 p.m. local time in what police believe may have been a deliberate attack. Berlin officials have confirmed that 12 were killed and 48 injured, some seriously, when the truck drove up onto the sidewalk.
Police on Tuesday morning described the incident as a "suspected terrorist attack."
The incident took place at the Christmas market at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church near the Zoologische Garten train station in the western part of the city, an area heavily frequented by tourists and locals alike with its proximity to Berlin's most popular shopping areas.
"At the moment, I do not want to use the word attack, although there is much to suggest it was," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told public broadcaster ARD on Monday night. Ralf Jäger, interior minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, went further, stating, "Going by everything we know, we have to assume this was an attack."
Early Tuesday morning, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas announced that the federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe has taken over the investigation, a strong indication that a terrorist background may be suspected.
According to media reports, the driver of the truck was at large immediately following the suspected attack but German police have reported that one suspect has been arrested and that he is believed to have been the truck's driver. Berlin public radio station RBB has reported that the suspect detained in the incident is a Pakistani national who is believed to have entered Germany as a refugee in 2015.
Police have confirmed that a passenger in the truck, identifed as a Polish national, was killed.
The dark truck, which has Polish license plates, drove into a 50- to 80-meter long stretch of the Christmas market at a high speed, also destroying several stands. A police spokesperson spoke of a "devastating scene." Police tweeted that they suspect the truck involved in the deadly incident may have been stolen from a construction site in Poland.
Ariel Z., the man whose shipping company owns the truck, said in an interview with broadcaster TVN 24 that the normal driver of the truck had been his cousin and that he had been unable to reach him by phone since 4 p.m. on Monday. Z. said he was certain his cousin was not the perpetrator. "Something must have been done to him," he said.
Berlin police have urged people to stay away from the site to make room for emergency vehicles and have warned against spreading rumors on social media. Police also requested that videos of the scene not be posted on the internet in order to protect the privacy of victims and their families. Facebook has activated its Safety Check feature so that friends, family and acquaintances can indicate that they are safe.
The area around the incident has been closed off and emergency facilities have been set up on site for the injured. Berlin Mayor Michael Müller said that that the situation was under control, according to the Berlin daily Morgenpost.
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said in the late evening that "my thoughts are with the family members of the victims and the injured in this horrific incident." Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted: "We are mourning the dead and hope that the many injured can get the help they need."
Monday's apparent attack evoked scenes of Nice, France, where a truck drove into a crowd in July, killing over 80 people.
In Germany and around the world, politicians expressed their sadness and shock over the development. "It is a bad evening for Berlin and our country," said German President Joachim Gauck. In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that he and his entire commission were "shaken" by the news. European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted, "Deepy saddened by news of deaths at Breitscheidplatz Christmas market. My thoughts are with the victims. Europe stands ready to help."