12 dead in Berlin Christmas market: what we know so far

12 dead in Berlin Christmas market: what we know so far
PHOTO: AFP

Berlin - A lorry ploughed into a busy Berlin Christmas market on Monday evening in a suspected attack that left at least 12 people dead and dozens more injured.

Here is what we know of the event reminiscent of the horrific scenes in July when a truck drove into a crowd in the French Riviera city of Nice.

Around 8 pm (1900 GMT) a lorry drove for up to 80 metres (yards) into a busy Christmas market frequented by locals and tourists.

The deadly event took place in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church whose damage in a World War II bombing raid has been preserved as a reminder of the horrors of war.

The man who was apparently driving the Polish-registered truck was detained, a police spokeswoman said without giving further details.

Police said a passenger was found dead in the cab of the lorry and later identified him as a Polish national. The identities of the 11 other victims are not yet known.

Police suspect a terror attack, with Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere saying there are "many reasons" to believe the killings were deliberate.

The Federal prosecutor's office for terrorism cases has taken over the investigation.

Lorry ploughs into Berlin Christmas market in possible terror attack

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    A lorry ploughed into a busy Christmas market in central Berlin on Monday (Dec 19).

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    At least nine people were killed and 50 more hurt.

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    Police said that the incident was a possible terror attack.

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    Ambulances and heavily armed officers rushed to the area after the driver mounted the pavement of the market in a square popular with tourists.

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    The scenes were reminiscent of July's deadly truck attack in the French city of Nice.

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    "A man who was apparently driving the truck was detained," a police spokeswoman told AFP.

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    As witnesses described scenes of panic and carnage, police said at least nine were killed and 50 others were injured.

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    Four people were seriously injured.

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    "We are investigating whether it was a terror attack but do not yet know what was behind it," a police spokesman said.

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    Authorities said there was no indication of "further dangerous situations in the city near Breitscheidplatz", where the suspected attack took place.

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    Police added they had no indications as yet to the nationality or age of the arrested man.

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    Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted quickly to the tragedy, with spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeting: "We mourn the dead and hope that the many people injured can be helped".

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    Traditional Christmas markets are popular in cities and towns throughout Germany and have frequently been mentioned by security services as potentially vulnerable to attacks.

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    "It's awful. We were in Berlin for Christmas", said American tourist Kathy Forbes. "We also thought it would be safer than Paris."

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    Australian Trisha O'Neill told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she was only metres from where the truck smashed into the crowded market.

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    "I just saw this huge black truck speeding through the markets crushing so many people and then all the lights went out and everything was destroyed. I could hear screaming and then we all froze," she added.

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    Europe has been on high alert for most of 2016, with terror attacks striking Paris and Brussels, while Germany has been hit by several assaults claimed by the Islamic State group and carried out by asylum-seekers.

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    An axe rampage on a train in the southern state of Bavaria in July injured five people, and a suicide bombing wounded 15 people in the same state six days later.

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    The attack in Berlin also comes five months after Tunisian extremist Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel ploughed a 19-tonne truck into a crowd on the Nice seafront, killing 86 people.

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    In response to the suspected attack in Berlin, French President Francois Hollande said, "The French share in the mourning of the Germans in the face of this tragedy that has hit all of Europe."

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The minister said on television that security services had "no indication" that Christmas markets could be the target of assaults if Jihadist groups wanted to attack Germany.

A suspect was arrested some two kilometres (one mile) from the scene, police said, with de Maiziere adding he was likely to have been behind the events.

Authorities have yet to comment on the man's identity.

Security sources cited by DPA news agency said that the man behind the wheel was an asylum seeker from Afghanistan or Pakistan who arrived in Germany in February.

The daily Tagesspiegel newspaper said the man was known to police but for minor crimes, not links to terrorism.

The Polish owner of the lorry confirmed his driver was missing.

"We haven't heard from him since this afternoon. We don't know what happened to him. He's my cousin, I've known him since I was a kid. I can vouch for him," transport company owner Ariel Zurawski told AFP.

The company's transport manager, Lukasz Wasik, said the driver was 37 years old and had been transporting Thyssen steel products from Italy to Berlin.

"The company where he was supposed to unload the products in Berlin was not able to receive them and told him to return on Tuesday morning. They told him to wait in Berlin somewhere," Wasik told AFP.

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