Man arrested in Berlin Christmas market crash set free

BERLIN — The man detained after a truck crashed into a Berlin Christmas market has been set free, Germany’s general prosecutor said in a short statement Tuesday.

“The investigations thus far have not produced urgent suspicion against the suspect,” the statement said.

The man, an asylum seeker, was detained by police after a large truck was rammed into a Christmas market in Berlin.

Berlin police president Klaus Kandt said officials could not be certain the man, who was picked up about a mile away from where 12 people were killed and 48 others injured on Monday evening, was the attacker.

German authorities are investigating the incident as a terror attack.

De Maiziere said the man arrested and then freed had entered Germany on Dec. 31, 2015, and sought asylum in Germany, but that his application had not been completed.

Intelligence and police sources earlier said the man detained had arrived to the country in Passau, a city on Germany’s border with Austria, after traveling through the Balkans.

Berlin police said the truck, owned by a Polish company, “was steered deliberately into the crowd.” It was carrying 25 tons of steel at the time, the vehicle’s owner said.

The man had been taken into custody was detained by police just more than a mile from the scene. Another man was found dead in the passenger seat of the truck.

Ariel Zurawski, owner of the truck company, told TVN 24 the vehicle might have been hijacked, as his cousin — the truck’s regular driver — couldn’t have been behind the wheel.

Berlin police corroborated the information, saying the man found dead was a Polish citizen and was not at the wheel during the incident.

De Maiziere said the man found in the truck appeared to have been shot dead, but that authorities had not found the weapon used.

The minister called for Christmas markets to be closed for a day of mourning.

“But to cancel them would be wrong,” he said, adding they would hopefully reopen Wednesday.

Merkel: ‘Hard to bear’

Dressed in black and making her first public comments on the attack late Tuesday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for unity in the country.

“This is a very difficult day. I, like millions of people in Germany, am horrified and deeply sad about what happened yesterday in Berlin,” she said.

Monday’s attack could cause further political upheaval for Merkel, who has come under criticism over her government’s generous acceptance of refugees.

Germany has taken in more than 890,000 asylum seekers in the past year, a marked difference to other European nations.

But a backlash has been growing, fueled in part by Islamist terror attacks in Germany and across the continent.

This month, Merkel called for the ban on Muslim full-face veils, in a concession to the right, anti-immigrant wing of her Christian Democratic Union party.