The driver of the semi that crashed into a busy Christmas open-air market in Berlin on Monday is likely still at large, police admitted today.
Soon after the evening attack, police detained a man at the nearby zoo said to be a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum-seeker who was not on intelligence agencies’ radar. “The temporary arrested suspect denies the offense. Therefore we are particularly alert,” Berlin police tweeted today. “Please be also alert.”
Police further asked residents to report “suspicious observations” to police. “For your safety! In case of suspicious observations, please don’t investigate on your own – it’s our job,” the department tweeted.
German newspaper Die Welt cited a police official as saying, “We’ve got the wrong man and therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, on the loose and can do fresh damage.”
Twelve people were killed and 48 injured in the carnage. There has been no claim of responsibility through official ISIS channels.
The truck used in the attack originated with a Polish company. The owner of the shipping firm said the company lost contact with the driver, 37-year-old Lukasz Urban, at about 4 p.m. on Monday. Italy’s ANSA news agency said the truck acquired a load of steel laminate sheeting at a factory near Milan and crossed out of the country on Friday. The cargo was supposed to be dropped off in Berlin.
Ariel Zurawski, who is also the driver’s cousin, said he was asked to identify the body found in the truck’s passenger seat. “Stab wounds were clearly seen at the photo which depicted only my cousin’s face. It was really clear that he was fighting for his life. His face was swollen and bloodied,” the trucking company owner said. “Police informed me that he suffered a gunshot wound. Despite being stabbed he was shot dead.”
Zurawski said his company got GPS signals from the truck at about 3:45 p.m. Monday that it was being driven in fits and starts, as if someone was trying to learn how to operate the big rig. The truck arrived in the market area 26 minutes before the 8 p.m. crash.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel made her first statement on the attack today, saying she’s “shocked and very saddened” by what happened at the Breitscheidplatz.
“Twelve people that were amongst us yesterday, that were looking forward to Christmas and were looking forward to the Christmas season, are no longer with us. It’s a terrible deed which we cannot understand,” Merkel said. “It took their lives. Many people are fighting for their lives and health and in these hours I first and foremost think of these people, the dead, the injured and their families. All of us in the whole of the country are with you in deep sadness.”
“We all hope for you and pray for you that you will find solace and comfort, that you will gain your health and continue to live after these terrible events.”
Merkel said “we don’t have any thing for certain but we must assume this was a terrorist attack.”
“It will be very difficult for us to learn if it were confirmed a human being who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum in Germany,” she added. “It will be terrible for all the Germans who work day in, day out who help. It would be repugnant.”