BERLIN — A truck crashed into a Christmas market here at around 8:30 p.m. local time Monday night, killing nine and injuring at least 50 persons.
The police have arrested a suspect and also said the front passenger in the truck had been found dead. Ninety minutes after what is being termed an “attack,” the city’s Mayor Michael Müller said “the situation is under control.”
A spokesman for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, however, told the German newspaper Welt that it was too early to evaluate the incident at this stage. “At this time we are exchanging all information.”
The police told the city’s residents to “stay at home and not spread rumors” and further urged Berliners not to come to Breitscheidplatz in Berlin’s west city center to make sure ambulances had free access to the scene.
The Berlin police have requested assistance from the Bavarian police, which effectively used Twitter and other social networks after the shooting rampage in a Munich shopping center last fall. The Federal Police force also offered the Berlin police “every available support.”
The Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz, off Tauentzienstrasse and neighboring the historic Gedächtniskirche, the shopping centers Europa Center and Bikini Haus and near Zoologischer Garten and many stores and hotels, is not the city’s largest Christmas market but it is well-frequented.
Albrecht Broemme, head of the THW, the federal agency for Technical Relief and head of the German Emergency Service, said “Should it turn out to have been a terrorist attack, one must say that this particular Christmas market, due to its positioning, is difficult to protect. I am shocked and can only hope that the number of dead and injured does not rise further.”
The truck reportedly had a Polish license plate and belongs to a Polish transport service provider. The truck’s owner is said to have had no contact with the driver or co-driver since 4 p.m. Monday afternoon.
Michael J. Geary, an assistant professor, modern Europe and the European Union at Maastricht University, The Netherlands, and a global fellow at the Wilson Center, said, “The attacks in Nice killed 84 on Bastille Day. It’s not surprising that terrorists would aim for a similar type of scenario where they hijack a lorry and aim for a well-populated area like a Christmas market.”
In Paris, armed guards are a common site on streets, in supermarkets and at Starbucks, Geary said, adding, “In Berlin, Christmas markets are famous and are usually crowded. This will put more pressure on the government to enhance security in public areas. It will have an effect on businesses facing mounting costs of enhancing security. The attack raises questions about the techniques terrorists will use and how the government will have to react. Security is getting better at dealing with bomb-making, but it’s the lone wolf terrorists that can simply hijack a lorry” that are hard to anticipate.