An Afghan refugee stole a 25-tonne articulated lorry, drove to a busy
Christmas market in Berlin, turned its lights off, mowed down and killed
12 people – and injured 48 others – as it sped at 40mph.
The vehicle which was filled with steel cargo mounted the pavement at
7pm, before tearing through stalls and shoppers on Breitscheidplatz
Square, outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the German
capital’s main shopping area.
The man at the wheel – who according to German newspaper Berliner used
different aliases, was of Afghan heritage and had arrived in Germany in
February – fled the scene but was later catured and arrested at a nearby
Police confirmed the original driver, who was transporting steel beams
from Poland to Germany, was a Polish national who was found dead in the
lorry’s cabin. It is thought he was hijacked. As German police, the
White House and Germany’s top security official indicated the incident
was terror related, there was a chilling echo of the deadly terror
attack in the French city of Nice in July. It also came just one hour
after the Russian ambassador was shot dead in Ankara.
The harrowing incident also comes amid repeated warnings from various
security agencies that ISIS planned to wreak havoc on European countries
during the festive season, specifically threatening Christmas markets.
The usually merry streets became scenes of chaos, with people being
pulled from under the flattened wooden stalls and others ferried off in
ambulances, some tragically under white sheets.
The Die Welt newspaper said that German intelligence had been warning
city authorities for the past week of a possible attack on a Christmas
market. Germany’s justice minister says federal prosecutors, who handle
terrorism cases, had taken over the investigation, while police used
Twitter to urge locals to stay in their homes, to ‘check suspicious
objects’ and encouraged people to use a Facebook safety check loved ones
were safe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she is ‘mourning the
dead’, while The White House said: ‘The United States condemns in the
strongest terms what appears to have been a terrorist attack on a
Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany, which has killed and wounded
dozens.’ The Polish owner of the lorry confirmed his driver was
missing. Speaking on Polish news channel TVN24, the owner of the
haulage firm Ariel Zurawski said his relative would not have committed
an act of terror: ‘I can say hand on heart that the man who drove into
those people in the centre of Berlin was not my driver.
‘This is my cousin. I’ve known him since I was born. I can vouch for
‘My scenario is that they did something to the driver – they hijacked
this vehicle because it was practically in the centre of Berlin and they
had a good vehicle with which they could do what they did.
‘They did something to my driver, God forbid, something serious. It
looks like that.
‘We haven’t heard from him since this afternoon. We don’t know what
happened to him.’
British tourist Mike Fox, from Birmingham, said the large truck missed
him by about three meters as it drove into the market, tearing through
tables and wooden stands.
‘It was definitely deliberate,’ he said.
Mr Fox said he helped people who appeared to have broken limbs, and
said others were trapped under Christmas stands, adding: ‘We were in the
market, outside the cathedral and we had just had mulled wine then as
we were leaving the large truck came through. ‘It went just past me,
past my girlfriend. I think it missed me by three metres, missed her by
five. It came in through the entrance, hit the sides of the barriers and
then carried on past us. ‘You do what you can to help who you can,
really. It happened so fast that there was nothing we could do to stop
it – if we’d tried to stop it we would have been crushed.’ Emma Rushton
from Rugby in Warwickshire, saw the lorry rush past her at speed and
said it could not have been an accident. She told Sky News she only
missed being caught in the chaos because she had climbed up some steps
to take a seat, adding:
‘The stall that we bought our mulled wine from was completely crushed.
People were tearing off wooden panels to get out.
‘It was not an accident. It was going 40mph, it was in the middle of the
market. There was no way that it could have come off the road and it
showed no signs of slowing down.’
‘I heard a big noise and then I moved on the Christmas market and saw
much chaos…many injured people,’ Jan Hollitzer, deputy editor in chief
of Berliner Morgenpost, told CNN. ‘It was really traumatic.’
Richard Clarkson, from Brighton, told the Irish Independent he was at
the nearby Irish Bar with friends when the incident happened.
Brighton resident Mr Clarkson said: ‘I just walked out and I saw the
truck, the windscreen was broken, I didn’t see any bodies they were very
quick to cover them up I think.
‘The word terrorist is being thrown around a lot at the moment and
people seem scared.’
German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said the circumstances of
the deadly crash were still unclear, but a lot pointed to an attack.
‘We don’t yet have anything conclusive regarding the circumstances and
the course of events,’ de Maiziere told ARD public television, adding
that investigators were working hard to put together all the pieces of
‘I don’t want to use the word ‘attack’ yet although a lot points to that,’ the minister said.
One eye witness said the lorry had no lights on when it smashed into the market.
He said: ‘He just drove onto the square from the Kant street. That had
to have been intentional, because his lights were not switched on. And
then I just heard this loud bang and hysterical screaming.’
Australian Trisha O’Neill told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
she was only metres from where the truck smashed into the crowded
‘I just saw this huge black truck speeding through the markets crushing
so many people and then all the lights went out and everything was
‘I could hear screaming and then we all froze. Then suddenly people
started to move and lift all the wreckage off people, trying to help
whoever was there.’
O’Neill said there was ‘blood and bodies everywhere’