IS claims responsibility for Berlin market attack


Berlin — German investigators intensified their search for the perpetrator of a deadly truck assault on a Christmas market in Berlin after an initial suspect was released, deepening the fear and uncertainty over what Chancellor Angela Merkel called a terrorist act.

The manhunt comes after a Pakistani asylum seeker was detained and let go because authorities said the evidence at this point doesn’t strongly suggest the man committed the crime. Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere indicated the assailant was still on the run as Islamic States said on its Amaq news agency that one of its followers carried out the attack that killed 12 people.

“From the beginning, the police and investigators were not just following this lead, but were pursuing other leads from the beginning,” he told ZDF. “So it’s indeed the case that it can’t be ruled out that the assailant is at large. And so the case is being investigated urgently.”

The prospect of one or more terrorist suspects still on the loose puts further pressure on Merkel to guarantee the German public’s security as she seeks re-election to a fourth term next year.

“This is a very difficult day,” Merkel, dressed in black, said in a nationally televised statement Tuesday. “Like millions of people in Germany, I am horrified, shocked and deeply saddened by what happened yesterday evening . . .”

Even as she laid a white rose for the victims at the cordoned-off crime scene, the Alternative for Germany party and other European anti-immigrant parties pointed the finger at Merkel.

“Terrible news from Berlin but no surprise,’’ Nigel Farage, former leader of the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party, said on Twitter. “Events like these will be the Merkel legacy.’’

The Monday night attack on the popular market by the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of former West Berlin also left 48 injured — the first mass casualty attack by Islamic extremists carried out on German soil.

The claim of responsibility carried on the Islamic State group’s Amaq news agency described the man seen fleeing from the truck as “a soldier of the Islamic State” who “carried out the attack in response to calls for targeting citizens of the Crusader coalition.”

Germany is not involved in anti-IS combat operations, but has Tornado jets and a refueling plane stationed in Turkey in support of the coalition fighting militants in Syria, as well as a frigate protecting a French aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, among other assets.

The claim of responsibility came not long after German prosecutors said they had released a man picked up near the scene of the attack, initially suspected of driving the truck.

Though Germany had not seen any successful mass-casualty Islamic extremist attacks until Monday, attempts and recent attacks in neighboring France and Belgium had made many feel it was inevitable.

“We’ve all been prepared that something like this could happen, so we were not surprised,” said economics student Maximilian Much.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the attack “bears the hallmarks of previous terror attacks,” but said U.S. officials didn’t have enough information to back up the IS claim of responsibility.

Prosecutors said they decided to release the suspect after turning up no forensic evidence proving he was in the truck’s cab during the rampage, and no witnesses who were able to follow him from the scene to where he was picked up.

Associated Press contributed.