Berlin Christmas market: 12 dead, 48 hospitalized in truck crash

Updated 9:52 PM EST, Mon December 19, 2016
From Shandana Durrani
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A policeman and firemen stand next to a truck on December 20, 2016 at the scene where it crashed into a Christmas market near the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin.
German police said they were treating as "a probable terrorist attack" the killing of 12 people when the speeding lorry cut a bloody swath through the packed Berlin Christmas market.
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A policeman and firemen stand next to a truck on December 20, 2016 at the scene where it crashed into a Christmas market near the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin. German police said they were treating as "a probable terrorist attack" the killing of 12 people when the speeding lorry cut a bloody swath through the packed Berlin Christmas market.
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Police patrol inside the Christmas market area and past the destroyed booths two days after an attack with a truck in front of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin on December 21, 2016.
German police on December 21, 2016 stepped up their hunt for the driver of a truck that ploughed through a Berlin Christmas market, in a deadly assault claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
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Police patrol inside the Christmas market area and past the destroyed booths two days after an attack with a truck in front of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche (Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church) in Berlin on December 21, 2016. German police on December 21, 2016 stepped up their hunt for the driver of a truck that ploughed through a Berlin Christmas market, in a deadly assault claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group.
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Federal prosecutor's office and the Federal Criminal Police Office ask for help with the reconnaissance to the attack on the Christmas market at the Berlin Memorial Church on December 19, 2016!

On December 19, 2016, a saddle truck type Scania, along with trailers with a Polish license plate, arrived at the entrance of the Christmas market at the Ged‰chtniskirche am Breitscheidplatz. The vehicle captured numerous people on the Christmas market and came to a halt after 60-80 meters on the Budapest road. According to a testimony, a person was removed from the vehicle shortly thereafter, and has since been fleeting.

The 24 year old Tunisian citizen Anis AMRI is urgently suspicious of this situation.
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Federal prosecutor's office and the Federal Criminal Police Office ask for help with the reconnaissance to the attack on the Christmas market at the Berlin Memorial Church on December 19, 2016! On December 19, 2016, a saddle truck type Scania, along with trailers with a Polish license plate, arrived at the entrance of the Christmas market at the Ged‰chtniskirche am Breitscheidplatz. The vehicle captured numerous people on the Christmas market and came to a halt after 60-80 meters on the Budapest road. According to a testimony, a person was removed from the vehicle shortly thereafter, and has since been fleeting. The 24 year old Tunisian citizen Anis AMRI is urgently suspicious of this situation.
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BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 20:  The Brandenburg Gate stands illuminated in the colors of the German flag the day before a truck drove into a crowded Christmas market in the city center on December 20, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. So far 12 people are confirmed dead and 45 injured. Authorities have confirmed they believe the incident was an attack and have arrested a Pakistani man who they believe was the driver of the truck and who had fled immediately after the attack. Among the dead are a Polish man who was found on the passenger seat of the truck. Police are investigating the possibility that the truck, which belongs to a Polish trucking company, was stolen yesterday morning.  (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
BERLIN, GERMANY - DECEMBER 20: The Brandenburg Gate stands illuminated in the colors of the German flag the day before a truck drove into a crowded Christmas market in the city center on December 20, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. So far 12 people are confirmed dead and 45 injured. Authorities have confirmed they believe the incident was an attack and have arrested a Pakistani man who they believe was the driver of the truck and who had fled immediately after the attack. Among the dead are a Polish man who was found on the passenger seat of the truck. Police are investigating the possibility that the truck, which belongs to a Polish trucking company, was stolen yesterday morning. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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An ambulance and rescue workers arrive to the area after a lorry truck ploughed through a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Several people have died while dozens have been injured as police investigate the attack at a market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kurfuerstendamm and whether it is linked to a terrorist plot.
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An ambulance and rescue workers arrive to the area after a lorry truck ploughed through a Christmas market on December 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. Several people have died while dozens have been injured as police investigate the attack at a market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on the Kurfuerstendamm and whether it is linked to a terrorist plot.
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Story highlights

White House condemns "'what appears to have been a terrorist attack"

Berlin police: 12 are dead, 48 injured

(CNN) —  

A tractor trailer barreled into a crowded Christmas market in Berlin on Monday night, killing 12 people and injuring 48 others. Witnesses said shoppers screamed and dropped packages and glasses of mulled wine as the truck plowed into the market.

Officials are investigating the crash as an act of terrorism, according to a German intelligence official familiar with the matter.

After a tip, Berlin police arrested a man on foot about a mile and a half away from the crash site. Authorities are working to determine whether he is linked to the case.

Some of the 48 people in the hospital have serious injuries, Berlin police tweeted.

The truck that was involved in the crash at Breitscheidplatz, in the western part of central Berlin, had Polish license plates, police spokeswoman Kerstin Ziesmer said. Berlin police tweeted that a passenger found dead in the truck was a Polish citizen.

Truck involved in Berlin incident.
Courtesy Ariel Zurawski
Truck involved in Berlin incident.

Ariel Zurawski, owner of the truck company, told TVN 24, a private Polish television news network and CNN affiliate, the truck, carrying a steel shipment, may have been hijacked.

Zurawski said his cousin – the truck’s regular driver – couldn’t have been behind the wheel.

“My scenario is that they did something to him and hijacked this truck,” he said.

Witness Emma Rushton told CNN that the truck didn’t slow down. She said the truck was traveling about 40 mph through the crowded pedestrian area.

“There’s no way it was an accident,” Rushton said. “We saw at least 10 people” injured and lying on the ground.

Google Earth

Another witness, Shandana Durrani, was 20 feet away from the truck when it rammed several market stalls

“I think everybody thought there was a terrorist attack happening,” she said. “People dropped what they were carrying and ran for cover. … It seemed like the truck just jumped the curb and took a wrong turn and barreled through the crowd.”

Durrani, an American who moved to Berlin a few months ago, said slowing to respond to a text message “saved me from being hit.”

Trucks used as weapons of terror

The incident, which officials are probing as an act of terrorism, triggered memories of the use of trucks in attacks.

Julian Reichelt, editor in chief at German tabloid Bild, told CNN the incident “looks like something that was adapted by Nice,” referring to the Bastille Day truck attack in France that killed 86 people and injured more than 200 in July.

Terror groups have used the Internet to encourage followers in the West to use vehicles to stage attacks, according to CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen.

Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch encouraged its recruits in the West in its 2010 webzine, Inspire, to use the trucks as a weapon in an article headlined “The Ultimate Mowing Machine,” Bergen wrote.

In September 2014, an ISIS spokesman similarly encouraged such attacks, saying of ISIS’ enemies, “Run him over with your car,” according to Bergen.

U.S. State Department warning

Last month, an attacker who investigators believe was inspired by ISIS used a car and a knife as weapons to injure 11 at the Ohio State University.

German officials have been concerned about security around Christmas markets, which are the main place for holiday shopping and refreshments, such as the mulled beverage Gluhwein.

The US State Department alerted US citizens in November to the heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, especially during the holiday season. The alert, which encouraged citizens to be cautious at the holiday festivals, expires on February 20.

Reichelt told CNN that the market would be busy every night of the week leading up to Christmas.

The market at Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church has existed for 33 years, according to the Visit Berlin website. The stands offer delights such as handmade crafts, “sweet waffles, candied fruit and nuts crafts.”

A Christmas tree lies next to a truck that slammed into a Christmas market at Gedächniskirche church.
ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images
A Christmas tree lies next to a truck that slammed into a Christmas market at Gedächniskirche church.

In a statement, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “deeply shaken by the awful news.”

The White House said the United States “condemns in the strongest terms what appears to have been a terrorist attack.”

US President-elect Donald Trump offered his condolences to the victims.

“Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” Trump said in a statement. “ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”

Germany’s deadly year

The incident in Berlin is the latest in a string of attacks in Germany over the past 12 months.

July 2016

On July 24, a Syrian suicide bomber injured 15 people in an attack on a music festival in Ansbach. He left behind a video pledging allegiance to ISIS.

Days earlier, nine people were killed in Munich by an 18-year-old gunman with dual German and Iranian nationality. The gunman committed suicide. His motives were unclear.

Four days prior to that, an immigrant teen, apparently inspired by ISIS, stabbed five passengers on a train in Bavaria. Police shot the teenager, an Afghan refugee who was armed with a knife and an ax.

June 2016

Three Syrian men were arrested in June on suspicion of planning a terror attack on Dusseldorf on behalf of ISIS.

May 2016

A German man killed one person and injured three others in a May knife attack at a train station in Bavaria. Witnesses told police the attacker had shouted out “Allahu akbar” and “Infidels must die” as he carried out the attacks. But intelligence services said they knew of no link between him and Islamist networks.

December 31, 2015

On New Year’s Eve 2015, two train stations in Munich were evacuated and train service stopped among concerns of a possible terror plot. The planned suicide attacks were reported to be connected to ISIS, officials said.

Frederik Pleitgen reported from Berlin. CNN’s Laura Goehler, Donie O’Sullivan, Emanuella Grinberg, Stephanie Halasz, Lonzo Cook and Deborah Bloom contributed to this report.