Germany’s Merkel Says Full Force of Law to Bear in Berlin Attacks

  • Germans in mourning after ‘horrific and unimaginable’ attack
  • Anti-immigration AfD party lays blame at Merkel’s door

Merkel: We Have to Assume This Was a Terror Attack

Chancellor Angela Merkel said that German authorities were working on the assumption that the deaths of 12 people after a truck plowed into a Christmas market were a terrorist attack, and pledged to use the full force of German law to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In a nationally televised statement in Berlin, Merkel said that people across Germany were mourning after the “horrific and unimaginable” deaths and injuries sustained in the capital on Monday evening. She said she planned to tour the scene of the attack later on Tuesday.

Angela Merkel on Dec. 20.

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

“This is a very difficult day,” Merkel said. “Like millions of people in Germany, I am horrified, shocked and deeply saddened by what happened yesterday evening on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz.”

Along with those who died, another 48 were injured, 18 of them seriously, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said.

“We have in the meantime no doubt anymore that this horrible event last night was an attack,” de Maiziere told reporters in Berlin.

Police in the German capital questioned a suspect arrested near the scene whom they believed was the driver of the truck that rammed into crowds on a square in the heart of west Berlin. Police have since checked statements by the man and found it credible that he was not involved, Die Welt reported, citing people close to the authorities.

The suspect is denying any involvement and the investigation by Germany’s federal prosecutor -- who steps in on terror cases or other major crimes targeting state security -- is ongoing, de Maiziere said, without providing more details.

Authorities believe the man they’ve arrested is Pakistani, he said, adding that there is no evidence that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Crucial Elections

Leaders across the region are being buffeted by an unprecedented combination of Islamic terrorism and political violence whose origins are complex and to which there is no obvious answer. In western Europe, which holds a string of crucial elections next year, Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and other leaders are struggling to persuade the public that they ensure security. Meanwhile, Monday’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey by a gunman pledging vengeance for the fall of Aleppo shows how the chaos in Syria is reaching into the heart of Turkey.

The attacks in Ankara and Berlin, plus a shooting in a mosque in Zurich, appeared to be “more coincidental than really connected,” said Blaise Misztal, director of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s national security program in Washington. “It’s going to feed into a temptation to weave a single narrative that this is Islamic terrorism coming out of Syria,” Misztal said in a phone interview. Yet this a “mistaken assessment,” as “it’s not a monolithic threat.”

Merkel, dressed all in black for her first public comments on the incident, said that she was convening a meeting of her security cabinet Tuesday to discuss lessons from the suspected attack, adding that there remains much “that we don’t know yet with the required certainty.”

Terror Attack

“But based on current evidence we need to assume that this was a terrorist attack,” she said. The investigation will turn up “every detail -- and we will prosecute as thoroughly as the law allows.”

Merkel’s open-door refugee policy of last year polarized voters and fed support for the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD. While the influx of asylum seekers has dropped off substantially this year, the Berlin deaths threaten to further undermine the chancellor’s domestic political standing going into an election year.

“Germany is no longer safe,” AfD co-chairwoman Frauke Petry said in an e-mailed statement. “We must be under no illusions. The breeding ground in which such acts can flourish has been negligently and systematically imported over the past year and a half.”

The Berlin assault is reminiscent of an attack in the French city of Nice in July, when more than 80 died after a truck plowed through late-night crowds celebrating Bastille Day.

“I know that it will be especially difficult for us all to bear if it is confirmed that somebody carried this out who was given protection and asylum in Germany,” Merkel said.

— With assistance by Rainer Buergin, Arne Delfs, Birgit Jennen, and Stefan Nicola

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