Updated: 4:10 p.m. E.T.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the deadly truck attack in Berlin, Germany, while police continued to scour the city for the suspect who they believe is still at large.
The terror group, through its propaganda arm, Amaq News Agency, claimed credit for the truck attack on a crowded Christmas marketplace that killed 12 and injured 48 more in Germany’s capital city the night before.
The statement referred to the attack as an “operation” and said it was carried out by “a soldier of the Islamic State,” but offered little in the way of proof or detail to substantiate the claims. The group used similar language — most notably the word “soldier” — when claiming credit for the recent vehicle-based attacks in Columbus, Ohio in November and in Nice, France in July.
Twenty-four of the 48 people injured in the attack were released from the hospital Tuesday, police said, but 14 were reportedly “still fighting for their lives.”
German police initially arrested a 23-year-old asylum-seeker from Pakistan, but released him after finding no evidence he was the driver of the truck.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the apparent terrorist attack earlier in the day, calling it an “unspeakable act” and promising to use the full weight of her office to make certain justice was done.
The far-right critics of Merkel’s open-door border policy, which saw 890,000 refugees enter Germany in 2015, seized on the attack. Marcus Pretzell, a European parliamentary member for the far-right AFD party, described the victims as “Merkel’s dead,” while AFD leader Frauke Petry said “the horror has arrived.” Petry, no stranger to controversy, went on to lambast Merkel’s coalition party SDU for its “political correctness” amid the attack.
Federal prosecutors in Germany have taken over the investigation and are pursuing it as a “probable terror attack,” Berlin police said. “Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz.”
Just after 8 p.m. local time Monday, a Scania truck filled with steel beams rammed into the crowded market, one of Berlin’s busiest shopping districts.
Police said a Polish man believed to have been the original driver of the vehicle was found dead in its cab; he was quite possibly killed by the assailants before the attack. “They must have done something to my driver,” Ariel Zurawski, the owner of the truck, told Polish television station TVN24.
A report from Poland cited an employee of the company who owns the truck saying that satellite tracking technology showed “someone was turning the vehicle on and off as if they were trying to get it going” before it travelled to the market at Breitscheidplatz.
Germany’s interior ministry said that all Christmas markets in Berlin would be closed Tuesday in a show of respect for the victims of the attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin joined other world leaders in condemning the attacks: “This crime against peaceful civilians is shocking in its savage cynicism.”
The London Metropolitan police said that as a matter of course it is reviewing its security measures in the wake of the Berlin attack, but added the terror threat level is already at “severe” — meaning an attack is highly likely — and that it has “considered a range of threats, including the use of large vehicles.”
This story is developing.