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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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Policemen stand next to a truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin, on December 19, 2016 killing at least one person and injuring at least 50 people.
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Policemen stand next to a truck that crashed into a Christmas market in Berlin, on December 19, 2016 killing at least one person and injuring at least 50 people. Ambulances and police rushed to the scene after the driver drove up the pavement of the market in a central square popular with tourists less than a week before Christmas, in a scene reminiscent of the deadly truck attack in Nice.
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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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Rescue forces stand in front of the truck that speed into a Christmas market in Berlin, on December 19, 2016 killing nine persons and injuring at least 50 people.
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Rescue forces stand in front of the truck that speed into a Christmas market in Berlin, on December 19, 2016 killing nine persons and injuring at least 50 people. Ambulances and police rushed to the scene after the driver drove up the pavement of the market in a central square popular with tourists less than a week before Christmas, in a scene reminiscent of the deadly truck attack in Nice.
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Investigators inspect a truck following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. 
Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan, and struck another vehicle on Halloween, police said. A suspect exited the vehicle holding up fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody, officers said. The motive was not immediately apparent.

 / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT        (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images
Investigators inspect a truck following a shooting incident in New York on October 31, 2017. Several people were killed and numerous others injured in New York on Tuesday when a suspect plowed a vehicle into a bike and pedestrian path in Lower Manhattan, and struck another vehicle on Halloween, police said. A suspect exited the vehicle holding up fake guns, before being shot by police and taken into custody, officers said. The motive was not immediately apparent. / AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Tractor trailer barrels into a crowded Berlin Christmas market, killing 12

David A. Andelman: The act could mean that Angela Merkel will be the next moderate European leader to face an uphill battle in her bid for re-election

But the fallout will spread far beyond Germany, threatening to undermine the very fabric of the European Union, writes Andelman

Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, editor emeritus of World Policy Journal and member of the board of contributors of USA Today, is the author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.” Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN) —  

The apparent violent truck assault on Berlin’s crowded Breitscheidplatz Christmas market had all the hallmarks of Islamic State terrorism – the same type of semitruck, the same high speed of 40 miles an hour, the same mass of holiday revelers – as the horrific attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice last summer. In both cases, there were multiple deaths and scores of maimed and injured left in their wake.

But beyond the immediate panic and horror, there also appears to be a potentially more pernicious reward to the forces of the political far right best positioned to capitalize on such a tragedy.

Indeed, the domestic political fallout of both incidents promises to carry far beyond the borders of Germany or France, spreading a radical shift to the right that holds the potential of upsetting not only the ruling elite, but the very glue that holds Europe together.

David A. Andelman
Courtesy of David Andelman
David A. Andelman

Even while Sven Gerling, a spokesman for the Berlin fire service, was saying, “We are at the scene with a large number of vehicles. The police are too. We are trying to save a number of lives,” a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel was assuring the nation that she was being briefed by her interior minister and by the mayor of Berlin.

As police began to dig into the background of the truck’s driver, however, it was clear that Merkel would have to do some neat pivoting if she was to win a fourth term as chancellor.

Ironically, it was just one month ago that she announced she would stand for re-election. Even then, she was facing some tough challenges – particularly from the Alternative for German (AfD) Party and its fiery leader, Frauke Petry, who have already launched a vicious, and in scattered local contests, successful campaign.

They claim that Merkel has been far too generous and accommodating in welcoming refugees from the Middle East, at least some of whom intend to harm the nation that has been so generous in opening its doors to them.

As long ago as January, Petry was urging German border police to shoot on the spot any refugees found entering Germany illegally. The fear is that to match such rhetoric in the face of the post-Christmas market massacre, Merkel will have to edge farther toward the right.

Already, she did a bit of a pivot two weeks ago when she called for a ban on wearing a veil in public. “The full veil is not appropriate here. It should be forbidden wherever that is legally possible. It does not belong to us,” she told a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) gathering.

The fact is, across Western Europe there is a full-scale assault on traditional democratic values that many are increasingly coming to fear are only giving aid and comfort to the kinds of jihadists prepared to seize on any leniency to drive their trucks into crowds of innocents enjoying themselves.

In France, the fears that sprung from a succession of terrorist attacks over the past year played a central role in hammering the popularity rating of Francois Hollande into the single digits and driving him from a re-election bid, while strengthening the hand of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, far-right leader Marine Le Pen of the National Front party.

In Italy, similar concerns led to the ouster of Italy’s center-left politician, while in Austria the far-right candidate managed to get into a two-way run-off for his nation’s presidency. The new, populist government in Poland has already shifted far to the right, and other nations including the Netherlands, Norway, Hungary and even Liechtenstein are set to hold their own elections in 2017 alongside France and Germany.

Across Europe, right-wing candidates are positioning themselves against immigration and Islam, defending an ever-tougher stance with every new terrorist assault.

A broader fear, though, is that terror incidents that pose electoral challenges for some of Europe’s leading pillars of unity like Merkel could provide ammunition for right-wing leaders who want to go beyond simple bans on immigration from the Middle East. The AfD, the National Front and their supporters want nothing less than a dissolution of the European Union and a return to pull-up-the-drawbridge nationalism for their individual nations.

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Brexit was only the first example of this kind of political mentality. The thousands of immigrants from the Middle East clamoring for entry to Britain only stoked the fires of exiting the European Union.

Each successive, successful and bloody terrorist attack will further whet the appetite of right-wing politicians and their supporters, feverish to return full control over their nation’s security to their own security forces.

This is the ultimate danger of terror attacks. Reasonable men and women must recognize them for what they are – an effort to drain what is left of democracy from our nations. As President-elect Donald Trump begins to focus on how to respond, he should understand that support for moderation and unity will defeat those who prefer to divide each of us. A populist agenda, in contrast, will only strengthen and embolden our enemies.