A manhunt was underway in Germany for the driver of the truck that plowed into a Berlin Christmas market as the Islamic State claimed one of their followers was behind the attack.
The statement released by ISIS’ Amaq news agency, listed under their website section of “short news” briefs among updates from Mosul and Palmyra, was similarly worded to claims for attacks in the past — yet omitted any name of the suspect.
Amaq said “a security source” told the agency that the attacker “is a soldier of the Islamic state and carried out the operation in response to appeals to target … international coalition countries.”
Germany’s federal prosecutor said in a statement today that the 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Pakistan who had been “temporarily arrested” shortly after the Monday attack had been released, adding that they had uncovered nothing in their investigation that warranted charging him with the crime.
“He made extensive statements in a police hearing but denied involvement,” the prosecutor’s office said. “…The criminal investigations carried out so far have not been able to prove a presence of the accused during the incident in the cab of the truck.”
Prosecutor Peter Frank did, though, agree that the attack, in which 12 people were killed and 48 injured, was an act of terrorism, citing the similarities to July’s attack in Nice, France.
Berlin police tweeted that they had received more than 500 messages at their tip line. “Thanks for prudence+trust. Without any fake messages+rumours our colleagues are able to concentrate on the investigation,” the department tweeted, later noting that they would stop tweeting about the investigation as the federal prosecutor’s office had taken over. “When conditions change we will of course be back online.”
Police appealed for people in the area at the time of the crash to turn in any photos or videos they may have taken.
The prosecutor’s office separately said today that authorities had arrested a suspected member of Jabhat al-Nusra, a 23-year-old Syrian, but “the arrest is not related” to the Christmas market attack.
The suspect sought in the truck attack is believed to be armed, as the original driver of the truck, a Polish man dropping off a load of steel in Berlin, was found stabbed and shot to death in the cab but no weapon was recovered.
Police have released no suspect description. Frank has said it’s unclear whether the driver acted alone or was part of a group.
Germany’s Criminal Police Agency head, Holger Münch, said the country is “naturally on high alert.”
“We don’t know if there was just one perpetrator. The murder weapon hasn’t been found,” Münch said. “That’s why we are deeply alarmed.”
Der Spiegel reported that the Pakistani man was arrested after a witness to the truck attack followed the driver and called police, but the witness lost sight of the man before making the call and gave officers a description. The Pakistani man reportedly had no gunshot residue or bloodstains on him, or any other signs of struggle despite the bloody scene in the truck cab.
New Year’s Eve celebrations were scheduled to proceed as planned at the Brandenburg Gate despite security concerns.
State Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters today that the U.S. knows “of no Americans that were involved or injured or killed” in the attack.
President Joachim Gauck, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Berlin Mayor Michael Mueller, along with leaders from various faiths, attended a memorial service for the victims tonight at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, next to the open-air Christmas market.
“We will not allow ourselves to be led into inhumanity by terror,” Bishop Markus Droege told the congregation, according to a DPA report.
“We will not let cosmopolitan Berlin be taken by such a cowardly attack, by fear and terror,” Mueller said.