Truck killer on run after police held wrong man
Isil group says that terrorist answered its call to target Europe's cities
A huge manhunt was under way last night after the person behind the Berlin truck attack slipped through the net when police arrested the wrong man.
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) claimed responsibility for Monday's carnage in which a lorry ploughed through a crowded Christmas market in the heart of the German capital, leaving 12 dead and 49 wounded.
The killer - described as armed and dangerous - had hijacked the lorry after shooting dead its Polish driver. Germans had thought the culprit was in custody, after police arrested a 23-year-old Pakistani asylum seeker, but he was released without charge yesterday.
A bystander had seen the lorry's driver fleeing the scene but police later admitted he had not been able to identify him with any certainty. The suspect was released after his DNA could not be matched to the scene.
It left Berlin on edge, with heavily armed police patrolling the streets as forces across Europe were told the real killer was on the run.
Peter Frank, the German attorney-general, admitted he did not know if a single perpetrator or a group had been behind the attack.
Isil released a statement which said: "A soldier of the Islamic State carried out the Berlin operation in response to appeals to target citizens of the crusader coalition countries."
With 14 people still in a critical condition in hospital, Thomas de Maiziere, the German interior minister, said: "We cannot rule out the possibility that there will be more victims."
Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, was under intense political pressure amid suspicions that an asylum seeker who entered the country under her "open-door" refugee policy may have been responsible for the attack.
Ms Merkel admitted yesterday that if it emerged that the perpetrator of the Christmas market attack was a refugee, it would be "repugnant" to Germans who had welcomed over a million asylum seekers.
In the latest of a series of tactical retreats over her open-door immigration policy, the German chancellor conceded that the attack risked denting public confidence in her refugee policy.
"It would be very difficult for us to learn that a human being committed this deed who came to Germany to ask for refuge and asylum," she said, visibly moved and dressed in black.
"It would be terrible for all of the Germans who are very active day by day in helping asylum seekers and refugees. It would be repugnant for those that are helping people that have come to this country and are asking for our help."
The hardening language from Ms Merkel comes as she faced a barrage of criticism, including from inside her own party, over her failure to grasp the depth of concern in Germany about the security and welfare implications of the recent refugee influx.
The interior minister of the German state of Saarland said that Germany was in "a state of war" against radical Islamist terrorism, but that too many people were slow to face that uncomfortable reality.
"We must say that we are in a state of war, although some people, who always only want to see good, do not want to see this," said Klaus Bouillon, who is a member of Ms Merkel's ruling Christian Democrat (CDU) party and current chairman of the regional interior ministers conference.
The remarks reflect simmering discontent in CDU party ranks over Ms Merkel's earlier cavalier approach to the refugee crisis, characterised by her now-infamous phrase "we can do it".
Since 2015, when the German chancellor announced her open-door immigration policy, Germany has received more than a million asylum seekers, placing huge strain on social infrastructure and raising security concerns following the New Year sex attacks in Cologne. (© Daily Telegraph, London)