A steel truck plowed into the Christmas market on Monday evening killing 12 and injuring at least 48 people at one of Berlin’s most recognizable sites, the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, destroyed in 1943 and left half-ruined as a reminder of the terror of war.
“We had stopped to have drinks and then suddenly we saw when people ran away screaming,” said Jemina, 19, a Finnish girl visiting the Christmas market with her three friends at Breitscheidplatz around 20:00 on Monday evening. “Then the place was filled with police and ambulances.”
Jemina and her friends had almost stopped at the very place where the truck crashed. “Luckily we walked forward.”
According to the Foreign Ministry, there were no known Finnish victims among the casualties.
The police said that they are treating the events as “presumed terrorism” and are investigating the case on the assumption that the truck was “intentionally” driven into the crowd.
The suspected driver was reported fleeing the scene but he was arrested 2 kilometers near the Berlin Victory Column. According to German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, the alleged truck driver was a refugee from Pakistan or Afghanistan, having arrived in Germany in February.
Another man, a Polish citizen, was found dead in the truck. According to the police, they have concluded that he was not the driver.
Later on Tuesday, the suspected driver was released for lack of evidence, and the manhunt continues.
The truck was owned by a Polish delivery company. According to the company, it lost touch with the driver at 16:00 local time on Monday after it left the country for Berlin. The company suspects that the truck was hijacked.
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä sent his condolences to the Berlin victims over Twitter: “Evening of absolutely shocking news and senseless violence. My thoughts are in Berlin and all Berliners and our German friends,” he said on Monday evening.
“The news from Berlin are shocking. I express my sympathies for the behalf of Finns and I take part in the grief of all the family members and close relatives of the victims. The background and the extent of the attack done at the Christmas market are still to be verified but it’s clear that it was an intentional act. Finland condemns terrorism strongly,” President Sauli Niinistö said in a bulletin.
UPDATED DECEMBER 21, 2016: The suspect was released, and the manhunt continues.