Thursday 26 April 2018

Angela Merkel vows to improve terror response as Berlin marks truck attack anniversary

Angela Merkel speaks at the opening of a memorial site in Berlin (dpa/AP)
Angela Merkel speaks at the opening of a memorial site in Berlin (dpa/AP)

Frank Jordans

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to improve the way authorities respond to terror attacks as survivors and dignitaries marked the anniversary of last year's truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market.

Mrs Merkel was fiercely criticised by relatives in an open letter earlier this month, for the way security services failed to stop the attack and the authorities' handling of the aftermath.

In a brief statement following an inter-religious memorial service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of west Berlin, she said she met relatives and some of the dozens of injured on Monday to hear their views.

"It was a very open and, on the part of the people affected, very blunt conversation which showed the weaknesses our state displayed in this situation," she said.

"We will do what's humanly possible not just to ensure security but to help give those whose life was destroyed or affected the opportunity to return to their life. Today is a day of grief, but also a day of willingness to do better."

Justice minister Heiko Maas went further in acknowledging that painful errors had been made.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a press statement after the opening of a memorial site in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 to honor the victims of the Christmas market terrorist attack on the Breitscheid square at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church one year ago. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for a press statement after the opening of a memorial site in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017 to honor the victims of the Christmas market terrorist attack on the Breitscheid square at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church one year ago. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

"We weren't properly prepared for the consequences that such a terrorist attack would have for those who were affected," Mr Maas wrote in Berlin daily Tagesspiegel.

"For this we can only apologise to the victims and the survivors," he said, adding that the government owed it to the relatives to learn from its mistakes.

The attack, carried out by a Tunisian asylum-seeker and petty criminal who had been on authorities' radar for months, was the deadliest in decades on German soil.

Anis Amri managed to flee the country but was shot dead by Italian police days after the attack, which was later claimed by the Islamic State group.

Italian authorities are still investigating whether Amri had contacts in Rome or Sicily who helped him.

Following the service, Berlin's mayor Michael Mueller unveiled a memorial on the Breitscheidplatz featuring the names of those killed on December 19 last year.

The memorial includes an almost 17-metre rift in the ground that was filled with a gold-coloured metal, symbolising the lives torn apart in the attack.

Relatives and dignitaries, including Mrs Merkel, placed candles and laid white roses beside the memorial.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Berlin's Mayor Michael Mueller attend a ceremony at Breitscheidplatz square for the one year anniversary of a truck attack that killed 12 people and injured many others
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Berlin's Mayor Michael Mueller attend a ceremony at Breitscheidplatz square for the one year anniversary of a truck attack that killed 12 people and injured many others

Church bells will ring later tonight for 12 minutes - one for each of the dead.

AP

Press Association

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