12 killed as Pak man drives truck into busy Xmas mkt in Berlin


Berlin: A Pakistani asylum seeker allegedly rammed a large truck into a crowded Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, killing at least 12 people and injuring nearly 50 others as German Chancellor Angela Merkel today pledged the harshest punishment for the “terror” attack.

The truck, bearing a Polish number plate and laden with steel girds, rammed into the traditional Christmas market in front of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, one of the main landmarks of the city, shortly after 8 pm (local time) as hundreds of people were milling around the shops and stands.

The vehicle rolled about 50 to 80 metres into the market area at the major public square Breitscheidplatz popular with tourists, hitting a number of visitors and demolishing several shops.

At least 12 people were killed and 48 others injured, including 18 seriously as the driver mounted the pavement , crushing people and triggering panic, in gory scenes reminiscent of the July 14 Nice attack.

Police said the black Scania truck belonged to a Polish transport company and they suspect it may have been stolen from a construction site.

Two persons were inside the driver’s cabin at time of the incident, police said, adding that while the driver jumped out of the vehicle after it came to a halt and fled from the scene, a body of a Polish national was found inside the truck.

The suspect, who was later apprehended by the police about 2 kms from the crash site, was identified as 23-year-old Naved B from Pakistan by BILD newspaper, that cited the information to investigator circles. The newspaper said he was reportedly registered as a refugee in Germany about a year ago.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere later confirmed that the suspect is Pakistani and had arrived in Germany on December 31, 2015, seeking asylum.

He, however, “denies the act”, de Maiziere told reporters. “We have no doubt that this terrible event was an attack.”

A little earlier, a visibly moved Merkel said authorities believe the deadly rampage was a “terrorist” attack likely committed by an asylum seeker.

“According to what we know, we have to assume this was a terrorist attack,” Merkel, dressed in black, told reporters.

“I know it will be especially hard for us to take if it is confirmed that the person who committed this attack sought protection and asylum in Germany,” she added.

The act would be punished “as hard as our laws require”, Merkel said.

Christmas markets in the city were shut for a day in respect for the victims, but de Maiziere said cancelling the markets or major events “would be wrong”.

The interior ministry said though the incident was an “attack”, there was no reason to close the country’s popular Christmas markets.