How Christmas market carnage unfolded: ‘Afghan refugee hijacked HGV and killed the driver’ before turning lights off and driving stolen lorry into shoppers at 40mph killing 12 and injuring 48
- At least 48 injured and 12 dead after truck mowed down shoppers at 40mph in a busy Christmas market
- Berlin police confirmed that they believe the truck was ‘intentionally’ driven into the crowd
- Incident ‘likely’ to be a terror attack after Polish-registered lorry understood to have been stolen by a refugee
- The original driver, a Polish national transporting steel beams, was found dead inside the 25-tonne vehicle
- Police using Twitter to urge locals to stay indoors and check ‘suspicious items’ as Angela Merkel is ‘mourning’
A refugee is thought to have been behind the wheel of a 25-tonne articulated lorry which mowed down and killed 12 people – and injured 48 others – as it sped at 40mph through a busy Christmas market in Berlin.
The vehicle laden with steel cargo mounted the pavement at 7pm, before tearing through stalls and shoppers on Breitscheidplatz Square, outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the German capital’s main shopping area.
The man at the wheel – who according to German newspaper Berliner used different aliases, was of Afghan heritage and had arrived in Germany in February – fled the scene before being arrested at a nearby zoo.
Police confirmed the original driver, who was transporting steel beams from Poland to Germany, was a Polish national who was found dead in the lorry’s cabin. It is thought he was hijacked.
They also confirmed on Twitter that they believe the truck was ‘intentionally’ driven into the festive crowds.
As German police, the White House and Germany’s top security official indicated the incident was likely terror related, there was a chilling echo of the deadly terror attack in the French city of Nice in July. It also came just one hour after the Russian ambassador was shot dead in Ankara.
The harrowing incident also comes amid repeated warnings from various security agencies that ISIS planned to wreak havoc on European countries during the festive season, specifically threatening Christmas markets.
The usually merry streets became scenes of chaos, with people being pulled from under the flattened wooden stalls and others ferried off in ambulances, some tragically under white sheets.
The Die Welt newspaper said that German intelligence had been warning city authorities for the past week of a possible attack on a Christmas market.
Germany’s justice minister says federal prosecutors, who handle terrorism cases, had taken over the investigation, while police used Twitter to urge locals to stay in their homes, to ‘check suspicious objects’ and encouraged people to use a Facebook safety check loved ones were safe.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is ‘mourning the dead’, while The White House said: ‘The United States condemns in the strongest terms what appears to have been a terrorist attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany, which has killed and wounded dozens.’
The Polish owner of the lorry confirmed his driver was missing.
Speaking on Polish news channel TVN24, the owner of the haulage firm Ariel Zurawski said his relative would not have committed an act of terror: ‘I can say hand on heart that the man who drove into those people in the centre of Berlin was not my driver.
TOURISTS WARNED OF TERROR ATTACKS AT CHRISTMAS MARKETS
Just weeks ago, US tourists were warned to be on high alert if visiting traditional markets in Europe due to a heightened terror threat.
The US State Department issued the advice for citizens travelling to the continent during the holiday season.
The warning came after it was revealed ISIS encouraged lone jihadis to use trucks as weapons to target large-scale events.
‘This is my cousin. I’ve known him since I was born. I can vouch for him.
‘My scenario is that they did something to the driver – they hijacked this vehicle because it was practically in the centre of Berlin and they had a good vehicle with which they could do what they did.
‘They did something to my driver, God forbid, something serious. It looks like that.
‘We haven’t heard from him since this afternoon. We don’t know what happened to him.’
British tourist Mike Fox, from Birmingham, said the large truck missed him by about three meters as it drove into the market, tearing through tables and wooden stands.
‘It was definitely deliberate,’ he said.
Mr Fox said he helped people who appeared to have broken limbs, and said others were trapped under Christmas stands, adding: ‘We were in the market, outside the cathedral and we had just had mulled wine then as we were leaving the large truck came through.
‘It went just past me, past my girlfriend. I think it missed me by three metres, missed her by five. It came in through the entrance, hit the sides of the barriers and then carried on past us.
‘You do what you can to help who you can, really. It happened so fast that there was nothing we could do to stop it – if we’d tried to stop it we would have been crushed.’
Emma Rushton from Rugby in Warwickshire, saw the lorry rush past her at speed and said it could not have been an accident.
She told Sky News she only missed being caught in the chaos because she had climbed up some steps to take a seat, adding: ‘The stall that we bought our mulled wine from was completely crushed. People were tearing off wooden panels to get out.
‘It was not an accident. It was going 40mph, it was in the middle of the market. There was no way that it could have come off the road and it showed no signs of slowing down.’
‘I heard a big noise and then I moved on the Christmas market and saw much chaos…many injured people,’ Jan Hollitzer, deputy editor in chief of Berliner Morgenpost, told CNN. ‘It was really traumatic.’
Richard Clarkson, from Brighton, told the Irish Independent he was at the nearby Irish Bar with friends when the incident happened.
Police in Berlin kept members of the public updated, tweeting the truck may have been stolen and was carrying steel beams – making it even more deadly as it careered through the crowd
World leaders have united in the aftermath of the tragedy, with Boris Johnson and Francois Hollande sending their condolences to.
Brighton resident Mr Clarkson said: ‘I just walked out and I saw the truck, the windscreen was broken, I didn’t see any bodies they were very quick to cover them up I think.
‘The word terrorist is being thrown around a lot at the moment and people seem scared.’
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the circumstances of the deadly crash were still unclear, but a lot pointed to an attack.
‘We don’t yet have anything conclusive regarding the circumstances and the course of events,’ de Maiziere told ARD public television, adding that investigators were working hard to put together all the pieces of evidence.
‘I don’t want to use the word ‘attack’ yet although a lot points to that,’ the minister said.
One eye witness said the lorry had no lights on when it smashed into the market.
He said: ‘He just drove onto the square from the Kant street. That had to have been intentional, because his lights were not switched on. And then I just heard this loud bang and hysterical screaming.’
Australian Trisha O’Neill told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she was only metres from where the truck smashed into the crowded market.
‘I just saw this huge black truck speeding through the markets crushing so many people and then all the lights went out and everything was destroyed.
‘I could hear screaming and then we all froze. Then suddenly people started to move and lift all the wreckage off people, trying to help whoever was there.’
O’Neill said there was ‘blood and bodies everywhere’.
In a statement released after the crash, President elect Donald Trump said: ‘Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of the horrifying terror attack in Berlin.
‘Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday.
‘ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.
‘These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.
Sabrina Glinz, an American tourist, was locked in her hotel after a number of buildings in the area were placed on lockdown.
Watching the scene unfold from the 15th floor, she told Sky News: ‘You just keep seeing people getting loaded into ambulances and it doesn’t seem to end. Just the white sheets covering them.’
She added: ‘The street that he has to have gone in you have do a u-turn on the street to turn around and instead of doing a u-turn he turned right directly into the market.
‘There was absolutely no way he could have accidentally, he went straight into it then veered to the left and is now back onto the main street were the truck is resting.
‘He went back to the beginning were it was busiest and then just careered through the buildings.
Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said he was ‘deeply stricken and pained’ by what he reffered to as an attack in Berlin.
In a statement provided by Italy’s foreign ministry, Alfano expressed closeness to Germans ‘in this sad moment that instead should be of joy and peace in the approach to the Christmas holidays.’
Alfano said attacks ‘won’t change our determination to combat terrorism’ alongside international partners and in particular Germany, saying the two countries are in strict coordination.
Germany has not in recent years suffered a large-scale attack from Islamist militants like those seen in neighbouring Belgium and France.
But it was shaken by two smaller attacks in Bavaria over the summer, one on a train near Wuerzburg and another at a music festival in Ansbach that wounded 20 people.
Both were claimed by Islamic State.
And government officials have said the country, which accepted nearly 900,000 migrants last year, many from the war-torn Middle East, lies in the ‘crosshairs of terrorism.’
In mid-October, police arrested a Syrian refugee suspected of planning a bomb attack on an airport in Berlin.
The 22-year-old man committed suicide in prison shortly after his arrest.
Only last week it was revealed that a 12-year-old boy tried to bomb the Christmas market in the town of Ludwigshafen with a nail bomb – twice.
The boy, of Iraqi-German parents, was radicalised only recently and is now in the care of the local youth authorities.
TIMELINE OF TERROR: ATTACKS IN GERMANY IN 2016
- FEBRUARY 27: Policeman stabbed –
A 16-year-old German-Moroccan girl stabs a police officer in the neck with a kitchen knife, wounding him badly, an assault allegedly ‘ordered’ by the IS but which was not claimed by the group.
The teenager attacks the policeman during a routine check at Hanover train station in northern Germany, before being overpowered by another officer.
- JULY 18: Train attack –
A 17-year-old asylum seeker, wielding an axe and a knife, attacks passengers on a Bavarian train. The assailant, who is believed to be Afghan, injures five people, four of them tourists from Hong Kong.
He is shot dead by police. The IS group releases a video purportedly featuring the attacker announcing he would carry out an ‘operation’ in Germany, and presenting himself as a ‘soldier of the caliphate’.
- JULY 22: Mall shooting –
David Ali Sonboly, 18, shoots dead nine people at a Munich shopping mall before turning the gun on himself, having spent a year planning the rampage.
Police say the German-Iranian was ‘obsessed’ with mass murderers like Norwegian right-wing fanatic Anders Behring Breivik and had no links to the IS group.
- JULY 24: Suicide blast –
A 27-year-old failed Syrian asylum seeker blows himself up near an open-air music festival in the southern city of Ansbach, wounding 15 others.
The Bavarian interior minister says the man had ‘pledged allegiance’ to IS, while the jihadist-linked Amaq news agency says he is a ‘soldier’ of the group.
The asylum seeker, who was due to be deported to Bulgaria, had received treatment at a psychiatric hospital and was reported to have suicidal tendencies.
Truck that ploughed through Berlin Christmas market was STOLEN from a construction site, police reveal
The truck that killed 12 people and injured 50 as it careered through a Christmas market in Berlin had been stolen from a construction site, police have revealed.
The suspect thought to have been driving – believed to be a refugee – was arrested shortly after the tragedy at a nearby zoo, while another unidentified man was found dead in the cab.
The arrest fuels fears for the Polish man who was registered as the driver, as his firm’s owner said he had ‘total confidence’ he was not behind the wheel during the Nice-style massacre this afternoon.
The boss, Ariel Zielinski, who is also the driver’s cousin, said they last spoke at midday but the man’s wife had been unable to reach him at 4pm – hours before the incident, which eyewitnesses claim was deliberate.
Police in Berlin have now confirmed that the truck was Polish and stolen from a construction site, but have refused to release the identity or the nationality of the man found dead inside.
But there has been speculation that the Polish man was the one found dead in the truck on Breitscheidplatz Square, outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, a busy shopping area in west Berlin.
The Scania-made lorry is owned by company Arial Zurawski, which is based in Gryfino in northwest Poland, and was fully laden with steel, making the heavy lorry even more deadly.
Company owner Mr Zielinski told local news channel TVN24 today: ‘The truck was coming back from Italy and was in Berlin to unload his cargo in the morning.
‘I spoke to him around noon and everything was ok. His wife then tried to call him at about 4pm but there was no answer. She couldn’t get hold of him.’
He added: ‘I can say hand on heart that the man who drove into those people in the centre of Berlin was not my driver.
‘This is my cousin. I’ve known him since I was born. My scenario is that they did something to the driver – they hijacked this vehicle because it was practically in the centre of Berlin and they had a good vehicle with which they could do what they did.
‘It wasn’t my driver, the one that was driving it. They did something to my driver, God forbid, something serious. It looks like that.’
Mr Zielinski is now being questioned by Polish police, according to local media.