BERLIN (CBSNewYork/AP) — At least 12 people have been killed and at 48 others injured after a truck plowed into a crowded holiday market in the center of Berlin just days before Christmas.
Several people were left in critical condition, authorities said.
The truck ran into the market in the public square known as Breitscheidplatz, outside the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, at 8 p.m. local time Monday. The popular market featured stall after stall selling gifts, food and drink.
Breitscheidplatz is similar to Union Square or Bryant Park in Manhattan.
As CBS News’ Charlie D’Agata reported from London, witnesses described an 18-wheeler jumping the curb, barreling into the crowd, and plowing on. The semi-trailer truck was carrying a load of steel.
German police arrested a suspect believed to be the driver of the truck soon afterward.
Police spokesman Winfried Wenzel told ZDF public television that the man was arrested near the scene. No further details were immediately available.
CBS News has learned there was also a passenger in the truck who apparently died. It was not clear if the passenger died during the incident, was shot by police, or met some other fate, Allan Hall reported for CBS News.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, video from the scene showed decorations toppled, stalls destroyed, and many injured people being tended to.
A German journalist described the aftermath in a telephone interview.
“Under the truck were some people. The driver of the truck was still inside — what I could see,” said Jan Holitzer of the Berliner Morgenpost. “But it was really dramatic.”
A photo posted by the the German newspaper the Berliner Morgenpost showed damaged tables and stalls.
Bild newspaper posted a picture of a large Scania truck with its windshield smashed out on the sidewalk alongside the market.
Video posted on social media showed people wandering around in shock in the immediate aftermath.
A passenger was also found dead in the truck, and was believed to be the driver before the truck was hijacked. It was not clear whether he was killed before or during the attack.
Police said the man found in the truck was a Polish national.
The truck in the attack had Polish license plates, and a Polish news channel reported that the truck owner’s cousin — who had been driving — reported the vehicle stolen in Germany, CBS News reported.
Owner Ariel Zurawki said he last spoke with the driver around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning.
Zurawki said that “they must have done something to my driver,” he told TVN24.
The Polish border is not far away, and the border into Germany is not difficult to cross, Hall reported.
A British tourist, Mike Fox, described his near miss as the truck barreled by.
“As we were leaving, a large truck came through — went just past me, my girlfriend. Missed me by three meters, missed her by five. It came through the entrance, hit the sides of the barriers, and went past us,” Fox said. “I saw two people who were laying on the floor with broken limbs, but they were going to be OK. I helped lift the side of a stall up so they could pull two other people.”
Witness Emma Rushton estimated the speed of the truck at 40 mph.
“We could hear people, we could hear crashing, it was, it happens so quickly and there was no sign of the truck slowing down at all,” Rushton said. “It was terrifying.”
Rushton said the incident was clearly intentional.
“There’s a main road to the side of it, but no way it could have come off that as an accident,” Rushton said. “It went through the middle of the market.”
German police have not confirmed whether the incident was an attack. But witnesses said there was no doubt the incident was deliberate, CBS News’ D’Agata reported.
German intelligence officials said they warned Berlin city authorities a week ago that something was being planned, Hall reported.
The area was on lockdown following the attack.
German Justice Minister Heiko Maas said federal prosecutors, who handle terrorism cases, will take over the investigation of the attack.
Maas gave no further details in a post on Twitter Monday night about the “shocking news” from the capital. He added, “We are mourning with the relatives” of the victims.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said he is in constant touch with security authorities, but did not give any indication in a statement whether they believe the incident was an attack.
Meanwhile, the White House said the incident “appears to have been a terrorist attack,” and President-elect Donald Trump blamed Islamist terrorists for the incident.
Trump’s statement offers nothing to back up his claim that Islamist terrorists were behind the attack. He said they and the Islamic State group continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.
The president-elect adds that terrorists must be “eradicated from the face of the earth” and pledges to carry out that mission with all “freedom-loving partners.”
ISIS and al-Qaida have both called on followers to use trucks to attack crowds.
Berlin police encouraged people to use a Facebook safety check to learn if loved ones are safe after a truck plowed into a crowded Christmas market. At least nine people were killed.
Facebook has set up checks periodically after natural disasters and attacks around the world.
But police also asked people to refrain from spreading videos to protect privacy.
For information and inquiries on the attack, Berlin police asked people to call 030 54023 111.
In New York, the NYPD took several precautionary steps. There was a show of force at the Winter Village at Bryant Park, and stepped up security at the German Consulate near the United Nations Building.
“The NYPD is monitoring the events in Germany and around the world today. The Department has moved highly trained teams, including the Critical Response Command, to high profile locations around New York City,” the NYPD said in a statement. “In the coming days, we will look to learn more about what occurred to inform the NYPD’s operations, deployments, and training of officers.”
At Bryant Park Monday night, five police officers dressed in black from head to toe were wielding assault weapons.
Miroslava Palavicini sells belts at the Bryant Park Christmas market. She has been to the market in Berlin and said the attack is “no surprise.”
“And now I’m working in this market that I’ve been doing for years,” Palavicini told WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman.
She said what happened in Berlin has played out in her mind before, so she thinks the extra security should have come from the start.
“Probably the same security they’re giving to the Trump Tower, you know, with those trucks of fences,” she said.
At Columbus Circle late Monday, the officers’ body armor and long guns was a chilling juxtaposition to the holiday cheer offered by the merchants.
On Long Island, Nassau County police said they have intensified patrols at all shopping malls, areas of mass transit, and public gathering points, as well as spots near critical infrastructure.
Nassau County police said social media outlets will be “intensely monitored.”
Other countries have also taken action in the wake of the Berlin incident. Czech authorities said they are increasing security.
Interior Minister Milan Chovanec tweeted that security is being beefed up at places with a high concentration of people all across the country.
Chovanec also said that more armed police officers will be on Czech streets. He says further possible security measures will be decided on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said he was “deeply stricken and pained” by the deaths in Berlin.
In a statement provided by Italy’s foreign ministry, Alfano expresses 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.
Separately, Italy’s ambassador in Berlin, Pietro Benassi, told Italian state TV that German authorities could not say yet if any foreigners were among the victims.
The Berlin incident shares similarities to a terror attack in Nice, France that left 86 people dead when a truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks on July 14.
The incident also came the same day that the Russian ambassador to Turkey was shot and killed in Ankara.
Ambassador Andrei Karlov, 62, was several minutes into a speech at the embassy-sponsored exhibition in the Turkish capital of Ankara when a man fired at least eight shots, according to an AP photographer in the audience.
“Don’t forget Aleppo, don’t forget Syria!” the gunman shouted in Turkish, referring to the Syrian city where Russian bombardments have helped drive rebels from areas they had occupied for years during the war.
He also shouted “Allahu akbar,” the Arabic phrase for “God is great” and continued in Arabic: “We are the descendants of those who supported the Prophet Muhammad, for jihad.”
After shooting the ambassador, the gunman climbed to the second floor of the same building and was killed after a 15-minute shootout with police, Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu identified the gunman as Mevlut Mert Altintas, who had been an officer with Ankara’s riot police squad for more than two years.
Also Monday, a gunman dressed in black stormed into the prayer hall of a mosque frequented by Somali immigrants in Zurich, Switzerland and opened fire Monday, wounding three people before fleeing. Police said it was too early to determine whether the attack was linked to the Berlin incident.
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