German Police Hunt for at Least One Attacker

German police on Tuesday released an initial suspect and Islamic State claimed responsibility for Monday’s truck attack at a Christmas market in Berlin, which left 12 people dead and 48 injured. Photo: Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

BERLIN—The search for at least one perpetrator behind Germany’s deadliest terror attack in decades entered a third day Wednesday, as Chancellor Angela Merkel faced mounting criticism from her own party over her open-door refugee policy and lax security.

The deputy chairman of Germany’s police union, Joerg Radek, told German radio that officers were looking for one or more perpetrators, two days after a truck was driven through a crowded Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 people and injuring dozens, with 14 people still in critical condition.

With no further information regarding new suspects, and a day after police said they had been holding the wrong man as their suspect, German officials sought to reassure the public.

“I am very confident that we will be able to present a new suspect either tomorrow or in the near future,” Andre Schulz, Germany’s head criminal investigator, said in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel.

Police officers deployed near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. ENLARGE
Police officers deployed near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin. Photo: Zuma Press

But fears that an asylum seeker may have carried out the attack and the claim of responsibility from Islamic State kept the political impact in sharp focus Wednesday.

The head of the country’s conference of state interior ministers called for stricter border controls and vetting of potential migrants. “There are numerous refugees nationwide who we do not know where they come from, and there is the potential for uncertainty,” Klaus Bouillon, the interior minister of the state of Saarland, told a German newspaper.

Germany’s polarized reaction to Ms. Merkel’s handling of the refugee crisis has thrust the country’s politics into its most uncertain period in years, less than a year before she runs for re-election as chancellor. While she has toughened her initially liberal refugee policy in recent months, that has failed to placate her critics.

The violence also raised new questions about Germany’s light security posture amid an upsurge of terror in Europe. Despite warnings about the possibility of an attack on one of Germany’s signature Christmas fairs, there were no barriers and no more than five police at the Berlin site when the truck slammed into market stalls and visitors.

The driver “must have done his research ahead of time,” said Michael Roden, chairman of the vendors’ association of the Christmas market. “We never thought a fully loaded 18-ton truck would be able to drive into the market.”

Berlin Truck Crash Victims Mourned

A truck plowed into a crowd at a Berlin market on Monday evening, killing at least 12 and injuring about 50

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A view of the truck on Tuesday that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. German police said they were treating the incident as “a probable terrorist attack.”

A view of the truck on Tuesday that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin. German police said they were treating the incident as “a probable terrorist attack.” TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A police officer positions concrete blocks that will be used in new security measures at the entrance to the Striezelmarkt Christmas market in Dresden, eastern Germany.

A police officer positions concrete blocks that will be used in new security measures at the entrance to the Striezelmarkt Christmas market in Dresden, eastern Germany. ARNO BURGI/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

People gather to lay down flowers outside the Gedaechniskirche near the area where a truck plowed into the crowded Christmas market.

People gather to lay down flowers outside the Gedaechniskirche near the area where a truck plowed into the crowded Christmas market. PAWEL KOPCZYNSKI/REUTERS

Police officers inspect the crime scene.

Police officers inspect the crime scene. MARKUS SCHREIBER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement on the attack.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement on the attack. MICHAEL KAPPELER/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

A police officer puts a suspect into a police van in Berlin.

A police officer puts a suspect into a police van in Berlin. TVNEWSKONTOR/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Authorities inspect the truck.

Authorities inspect the truck. ODD ANDERSEN/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Medics attend to an injured person after the truck crashed.

Medics attend to an injured person after the truck crashed. odd andersen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Firefighters walk past ambulances.

Firefighters walk past ambulances. MICHAEL SOHN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Police stand near the truck.

Police stand near the truck. rainer jensen/European Pressphoto Agency

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After the truck plowed into the Christmas market on Monday, a witness followed the driver as he fled the scene and reported to the police that the man had disappeared on the edge of the sprawling Tiergarten park, police said. Soon after, near the center of the park, police took into custody a Pakistani man who resembled the witness’s description.

After the man continued to deny involvement Tuesday and forensic tests failed to link him to the scene, the man was released. Police urged Berliners to stay vigilant.

Seven people killed in the attack were identified by Tuesday, including a Polish man who had been shot dead and was found in the passenger seat of the truck. The other six were German, police said, adding it was possible that foreigners were among the other five.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière said he was optimistic that German investigators were following promising leads even though the initial suspect appeared to have been the wrong man.

Write to Christopher Alessi at christopher.alessi@wsj.com, Anton Troianovski at anton.troianovski@wsj.com and Zeke Turner at Zeke.Turner@wsj.com

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