Christmas Market, Berlin, Germany - 20 Dec 2016

Retailers and law enforcement authorities throughout Europe and the U.S. stepped up security Tuesday following the terrorist attack on the Christmas market in Berlin that killed 12 people and injured almost 50 more.

The search for the Berlin attacker or attackers continued Tuesday. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack Monday night, when a truck jumped the pavement and crashed into a Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz in Berlin’s west city center at about 8 p.m., killing 12 and injuring 48.

The attack bore resemblance to the incident in Nice, France, last July that killed 85 people and injured dozens. On Tuesday evening, an Internet posting by ISIS web site Arak claimed responsibility for the incident in Berlin, saying one of its soldiers had carried out the attack.

Even before that, authorities in major European and American cities had stepped up security.

Bruno Le Roux, the new French Minister of the Interior, issued a statement following the event confirming that security at France’s Christmas markets had been heightened. He also called on all law enforcement agencies to “maintain maximum vigilance and determination in the face of barbarism.”

Police on Tuesday morning blocked off the lower section of the Champs-Elysées on which the avenue’s Christmas market sits, lining each side of the road, with no cars allowed to drive from the level of the Franklin D. Roosevelt metro station down to the Place de la Concorde.

But by Tuesday evening, things were back to the new normal. Short metal barriers decorated with holiday graphics separated shoppers from the traffic speeding by. In addition to private security officers and local police, bands of soldiers in uniform passed through the market periodically with semi-automatic rifles hanging from their soldiers.

The market appeared to be less crowded than in previous days — a sentiment shared by vendors — but there was nonetheless a steady flow of visitors passing by the stands.

“There are fewer people than yesterday,” said Jérôme, a vendor selling fur-lined jackets and accessories. “But people have started to move on,” he added, referring to this time last year after the Nov. 13 Paris attacks left public spaces nearly deserted for weeks.

“I had to think about whether anyone would come today,” said Lina, who sells beaded necklaces and jewelry from a small stand. “And I did think about my safety as well. Even if there are security measures, would it ever be enough? The level of risk is unpredictable.”

France in July, following the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice — the country’s third terrorist tragedy in 18 months — extended its state of emergency for the fourth time since the first wave of terrorist attacks in January 2015 targeting the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. The latest round of emergency measures will be in place through the end of January.

Paris department stores already stepped up security checks as set out under France’s Vigipirate program since the first wave of terrorist attacks. A Printemps spokesman on Tuesday said that following the Berlin attack no new measures have been put in place with the store having already doubled its security force.

Security measures are also being heightened in London. The Metropolitan Police said following the events in Ankara and Berlin on Monday, an attack in the British capital is highly likely.

“As a matter of routine, as a precaution, we review our plans after attacks overseas, and we are doing so at present following the awful incidents in Berlin and Ankara last night. The Metropolitan police has detailed plans for protecting public events over the Christmas and New Year period,” said a Metropolitan police spokesman. “These already recognize that the threat level is at ‘severe,’ meaning an attack is highly likely, and have considered a range of threats, including the use of large vehicles.”

The New West End Company, which represents retailers across Bond and Regent Streets, declined to discuss specific security measures but highlighted that retailers in London West End have been working closely with the police to monitor security. “New West End Company continues to work closely with the Metropolitan police and local resilience forums on robust contingency plans for the area,” said a spokesman.

Maureen Hinton, group research director at retail agency Verdict, drew a comparison between Monday’s attacks in Berlin and the Paris terror attacks, which took place November 2015.

“These incidents will undoubtedly have an impact on consumers shopping over the holiday period. Shoppers in particular were hit last year by the Paris terrorist tragedy, with footfall dropping dramatically until January, as families avoided crowded, enclosed places. The same is likely to happen again this year across Europe with the spending shifting online.”

The New York Police Department on Tuesday repeated the statement they made immediately following the attack. “The NYPD is monitoring the events in Germany and around the world today. The department has moved highly trained teams, including the Critical Response Command, to high-profile locations around New York City,” it said. “In the coming days, we will look to learn more about what occurred to inform the NYPD’s operations, deployments, and training of officers.”

The Critical Response Command is a 500-person elite squad that is trained in counterterrorism. The group was established last year under then-Police Commissioner William Bratton and was first put into place following the deadly attacks in Paris. It is part of a neighborhood-policing plan that ensures “steady sectors to work with residents at reducing crime, fear and disorder.”

New York’s increased vigilance comes at a time when local police and federal authorities are already at heightened alert due to seasonal shopping and the Trump factor — that is snarled traffic and limited pedestrian access near Trump Tower where President-elect Donald Trump has been camped out with his transition team. Retailers in the tower’s vicinity, which include, among others, Gucci, Armani, Tiffany and Ralph Lauren, have reported a steep drop in foot traffic, with commotion and police restrictions limiting entry into the stores.

But an increased police presence comes at a cost. Malachy Kavanaugh, a spokesman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, said most malls during the holiday season hire on- or off-duty police officers to augment their existing security details.

“The officers are usually in uniform,” Kavanaugh said. “They have their squad cars. They’re a big deterrent.” He said some of the biggest malls, such as the Queens Center, in Elmhurst, N.Y., budget $5 million a year for security.

Kavanaugh said 9/11 changed security protocols. “What a lot of centers implemented after 9/11 is concrete ballasts in front of entrances to prevent vehicle-born attacks. It’s one of these things were you have to constantly stay on top of it.

“We have a security group that gets together twice a year,” Kavanaugh added. “We look at technologies and impending technologies. You can use a drone offensively and you can use technology to prevent drones from entering our air space.”

Since the tragedy in Berlin, some centers have talked about restricting large vehicles and making delivery trucks unload offsite.”

In Berlin, there was no news about the attacker or attackers as of press time. The reputed driver of the truck was quickly arrested Monday night. At press conferences, the police and General Federal attorney said the 23-year-old refugee from Pakistan arrested may not be the perpetrator, and he was released from custody by Tuesday evening. It is still not clear whether the perpetrator acted alone or had accomplices, and the search for the driver of the truck is actively underway.

Earlier in the day, the city senator for urban development Andreas Geisel said the police presence in Berlin would be significantly stepped up, as well as new physical security features such as walls and armed police at the city’s Christmas markets. Moreover, he said the security plans for the upcoming New Year’s Eve celebration are being reworked.

Police chief Klaus Kandt said the security situation had changed in Berlin. “We’re going to have to ramp up significantly,” he commented.

The attack took place alongside of one Berlin’s most frequented shopping stretches, and parts of Kurfürstendamm, Tauentzienstrasse and Budapester Strasse remain closed to traffic. Most shops on those streets, including KaDeWe on the south end of Tauentzienstrasse, are open, though a spokeswoman there confirmed security measures have been stepped up, as is the case in stores throughout the city.

Bikini Haus, which is located directly across the scene of the crash, opened its doors this morning, though to cooperate with the police, street level stores were requested to remain closed, according to one street level retailer contacted as he was about to leave the premises.

Odeeh, which is located on the second floor, also opted to remain closed today. “We will open tomorrow,” co-owner Jörg Ehrlich told WWD. “There is total confusion at Bikini right now, and it was up to every retailer to decide what to do. Our manager was just leaving the house yesterday evening as the attack happened, and she is understandably distressed.”

Another Bikini retail resident, Stephen Molloy of Fundamental posted on Facebook, “I was separated from this psychosis by about 12 hours. Just went for a regular check up at our shop in the Bikini Mall. That is exactly where I would have left the car while making a delivery. I am proud to report that we are open for business. I’m impressed by the calm and professionalism of Berlin’s excellent cops and the private security service at the Mall. The general atmosphere of sombre reflection, civic courage and a defiant commitment to business as usual makes me proud to call this city home. And all with a sharp twist of very Berlin black humour.“

Europa Center, a 1960’s era shopping centers which directly neighbors the scene, was also open on Tuesday. However, as a spokesperson for the Saturn Media Markt noted, access is considerably limited, with all doors to the Budapester and Breitscheidplatz sides closed to shoppers due to ongoing crime scene investigation.

Nils Busch-Petersen, director of the German Retail Federation in Berlin-Brandenburg. said stores were operating “normally to the greatest extent possible. Anything else would be fatal,” he told WWD.

He would not speculate on what effect this would have on the last days of Christmas business. He noted business in the city had been good to date, running about 2 percent ahead of last year, though apparel sales had been lagging due to unseasonably warm weather, he said.

German retailers in general report the holiday season has been late to take off, with consumers exhibiting the same tendency as last year to wait to the last minute to do their shopping.

A spokesman for Galeria Kaufhof, which operates three doors in Berlin, including a flagship on Alexanderplatz, said the chain was stepping up security throughout Germany. “Security measures are not something we talk about for obvious reasons, and there is heightened sensitivity about it, especially in Berlin but also in other cities. But what happened yesterday in Berlin can’t be prevented.”

Out of respect for the victims of Monday night’s attack, the Berlin police have suggested all 60 Christmas markets in the German capital remain closed Tuesday. However, a meeting this morning of the German federal and state interior ministers voted against a general closing of Christmas markets throughout the country.

In a statement released earlier Tuesday, Merkel said “The case will be solved in every detail and it will be punished as hard as our laws demand. We do not know many aspects of the act with the necessary certainty yet, but at present, we must assume a terrorist attack.”

She continued, “I know that it would be particularly hard to bear if it were confirmed that a person who sought protection and asylum in Germany might have committed this act. This would be repugnant towards the many, many Germans who engage in refugee aid every day and towards the many people who really need our help and attempt integration in our country.

“We do not want to accept that the fear of the evil paralyzes us…-We will find the strength for the life we want to live in Germany: free, together and open,” she concluded.

Merkel’s stance on the much-hailed German openness and inclusiveness was reiterated by the police, the federal Bureau of Investigation, the federal attorney and the city’s mayor. The city’s representatives also acknowledged the poised, factual reporting of the German media, which mostly refrained from premature judgements.

 

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