A suspect has been arrested after a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Monday. At least nine people are dead — including a passenger in the truck — and about 50 are injured, some critically. Police said they are still investigating why the truck veered off the road into the market, tearing through tables and wooden stands.
Berlin’s top security official, State Interior Minister Andreas Geisel, said he didn’t want to speculate, but that the circumstances pointed to an attack.
The White House said it “appears to have been a terrorist attack.”
White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. was ready to assist Germany in investigating and responding.
The popular market is near the fashionable Kurfuerstendamm avenue in the west of Germany’s capital city at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. Dozens of ambulances lined the area waiting to remove the injured while heavily armed police patrolled the area.
Truck’s plates are Polish
Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said the truck was registered in Poland, but that police were still investigating where it came from and who the driver was.
The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle driven by his cousin may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawki said he last spoke with the driver around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning.
Reaction has been trickling in from German officials including Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who said federal prosecutors were taking over the investigation. They are the team that handles terrorism cases.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was briefed on the situation by the country’s interior minister and the mayor of Berlin, according to a government spokesman.
Stay at home, police say
It has been less than a month since the U.S. State Department called for caution in markets and other public places, saying extremist groups including ISIS and al-Qaeda were focusing “on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.”
Following the July attack in the French city of Nice, ISIS and al-Qaeda have called on followers to use trucks in particular to attack public places. Czech authorities said they were increasing security as a result of what happened in Germany on Monday.
The Canadian government urged Canadians in Berlin to follow the direction of local authorities and call if they require emergency consular assistance.
‘Definitely deliberate’: witness
Mike Fox, a tourist from Birmingham, England, told The Associated Press at the scene in Berlin that the large truck missed him by about three metres.
“It was definitely deliberate,” Fox said. He said he helped people who appeared to have broken limbs, and added that many others were trapped under Christmas stands.
Speaking to CBC News from Berlin, freelance journalist Nick Spicer said the truck drove into the crowd around 8 p.m. local time, when the market was crowded with people.
“If you wanted to hurt a large number of people with a truck, this is the kind of place you would go to,” Spicer said.
On Twitter, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump referred to the incident, as well as events in Switzerland and Turkey, as a terror attack.
Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion on Twitter lamented the “tragic loss of life” and offered his condolences to the victims’ families.