Man Arrested In Truck Attack Released, German Prosecutors Say

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Police are on heightened alert in New York City and on Long Island after Monday’s attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.

The NYPD is taking precautionary steps, increasing security at the Winter Village at Bryant Park and at the holiday markets at Union Square and Columbus Circle as well as the German Consulate near the United Nations Building.

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“At this point we don’t see any specific credible threat to either going towards the holiday season or New York in particular, but we have made a lot of adjustments,” NYPD Deputy Chief of Counter Terrorism John Miller told “CBS This Morning.”

As CBS2’s Ali Bauman reported, the extra security has not gone unnoticed in Columbus Circle. It’s normal to see a lot of police in the crowded area — which sits near a police precinct — but vendors said it’s been nothing compared to the last two days.

Heavily armed officers stood guard Tuesday among the maze of jewelry and chocolate booths. The NYPD said they have moved highly trained teams like the Critical Response Command to high profile locations around the city.

Vendors who work in Columbus Circle every day said they’ve seen about 15 more officers around compared to last week, but many said there have also been fewer shoppers through the market aisles.

One purse maker said sales Monday and Tuesday were down 30 percent.

Vendor Armand Altam is concerned not only for his safety, but for his bottom line and is fearful of losing customers.

“People stop coming here, they feel very uncomfortable and insecure,” he told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell.

Altam thinks the show of force is a necessary move, but he’s afraid that even an army of police may not be enough to stop a determined attacker.

“Nobody knows what people are wearing or carrying,” he said.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will not be shutting the markets down, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.

“We’re not going to let terrorists intimidate us, we’re not going to let them change our way of life,” he said.

The NYPD said the extra security was not tied to a credible threat, but that the department constantly reviews the so-called threat stream and makes adjustments to police coverage every day.

In wake of the Berlin incident, de Blasio said, “There’s been a special outreach effort to truck rental agencies to deepen the dialogue. This is something the NYPD had developed a long time ago.”

On Long Island, the Nassau County Police Department said it is also stepping up patrols in malls, areas of mass transit, public gatherings and near critical infrastructure.

Police said there are no known specific threats here.

At least a dozen people were killed and 50 were injured when a truck rammed into the busy market in the German capital in what police described as a suspected “terror attack.”

Police believe the big rig, carrying a load of steel, was hijacked on Monday. The driver — fatally injured by a gunshot — was found in the cab after the crash.

PHOTOS: Truck Slams Into Berlin Holiday Market

Witnesses described the 18-wheeler barreling out of control, heading right for the crowd of shoppers.

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“It went just past me, past my girlfriend,” said British tourist Mike Fox. “I think it missed me by three meters, missed her by five.”

“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,” another witness said.

As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported Tuesday, a news agency affiliated with the Islamic State said, “the person who carried out the truck run over attack in Berlin is a soldier of the Islamic State, and carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the crusader coalition.”

German prosecutors say a man who was arrested after the attack has been released because there isn’t sufficient evidence to tie him to the rampage.

Federal prosecutors said Tuesday that the man, a Pakistani citizen who came to Germany last year as an asylum-seeker, denied involvement in the attack.

They noted that witnesses were able to follow the truck’s driver from the scene but lost track of him. The man arrested matched witness descriptions of the truck driver, but investigators haven’t been able to prove that he was in the truck’s cab at the time of the attack.

Under German law, prosecutors have until the end of the calendar day following an arrest to seek a formal arrest warrant keeping a suspect in custody.

On Tuesday night, police searched for evidence in the neighborhood where the truck was parked before the attack.

The hijacked driver was Polish. His body — with gun and knife injuries — was found in the truck after the rampage.

German courts have restricted the use of surveillance cameras, which could be hampering the search fro the suspect. Investigators are pleading for tips from the public.

Just last month, the U.S. State Department warned of possible terror attacks at European holiday events, including outdoor markets.

The region had been on alert following a similar truck attack in Nice, France back in July that killed 86 people.

“Both Al Qaeda and ISIL have called on their supporters, their followers, to do attacks within their range. They have given out in their magazines, a series of examples, using knives if you can’t get a gun, using a truck, using a car as seen in Ohio State. What they’re asking for is low tech, low cost, high impact, and I think we’re seeing that again,” Miller said.

The danger had at least one American tourist changing his travel plans.

“We were planning to stay longer in Germany, however we have cut our trip short. We don’t feel safe,” said college student Luke Theis who was visiting Berlin with his girlfriend.

Christmas markets are a cherished piece of German culture. The attack at one of Berlin’s main squares has deeply affected the nation which has been debating a huge increase in the immigrant population under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door asylum policy.

On Tuesday, she laid a white rose at the attack scene and signed a book of condolences at a nearby church.

The White House said President Barack Obama has spoken by phone with Merkel and offered his condolences.

The White House said Obama reiterated a U.S. offer of assistance. He also underscored that “no attack could sway our determination and that of our German allies to defeat terrorism in all of its forms.”

Obama also expressed his appreciation for Merkel’s steadfast leadership in shared efforts to “root out the scourge of terrorism and defend our way of life.”

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