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12 dead in Berlin Christmas market: what we know so far

Berlin, Germany | AFP | 

A lorry ploughed into a busy Berlin Christmas market on Monday evening in what German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday was a “terrorist attack” which killed at least 12 people and injured at least 48 more.

Here is what we know of the event reminiscent of the horrific scenes in July when a truck drove into a crowd in the French Riviera city of Nice.

– What happened –

Around 8pm (1900 GMT) a lorry drove for up to 80 metres (yards) into a busy Christmas market frequented by locals and tourists, smashing wooden stalls and crushing victims.

The man who was apparently driving the Polish-registered truck was detained, while police said a passenger was found dead in the cab of the lorry and later identified him as a Polish national.

The deadly event took place in the shadow of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church whose damage in a World War II bombing raid has been preserved as a reminder of the horrors of war.

– An attack? –

Chancellor Merkel said Tuesday the attack was a “terrorist act” likely committed by an asylum seeker.

“According to what we know, we have to assume this was a terrorist attack,” Merkel, visibly moved and dressed in black, told reporters.

“I know it will be especially hard for us to take if it is confirmed that the person who committed this attack sought protection and asylum in Germany.”

The interior ministry said there was no reason to close Germany’s popular Christmas markets. “We must not let our free way of life to be taken from us,” it said in a statement.

The federal prosecutor’s office has taken over the investigation, a routine step when terrorism is suspected.

– The suspect –

A suspect was arrested some two kilometres (one mile) from the scene, police said. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the detained man was likely to have been behind the events.

Authorities have yet to comment on the man’s identity.

Security sources cited by DPA news agency said the man behind the wheel was an asylum seeker from Afghanistan or Pakistan who arrived in Germany in February.

The daily Tagesspiegel newspaper said the man was known to police but for minor crimes, not links to terrorism.

– The lorry –

The Polish owner of the lorry confirmed late Monday that his driver was missing, while German officials said Tuesday that a Polish man found dead after the carnage was “shot” dead.

“One of the victims was shot,” said Karl-Heinz Schroeter, interior minister of neighbouring Brandenburg state, without specifying whether this victim was the registered driver of the truck.

The company’s transport manager, Lukasz Wasik, said the driver was 37 years old and had been transporting Thyssen steel products from Italy to Berlin.

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