Wrong man? Doubts Over Detained Berlin Attack Suspect

A 23-year-old Pakistani man arrested in relation to the Berlin Christmas market killings may not have anything to do with the atrocity, German officials said Tuesday.
Police arrested a suspect in the killings near the scene of the incident.

A 23-year-old Pakistani arrested in relation to the Berlin Christmas market massacre may not have been involved in it, German officials said Tuesday. Eleven people were killed when a truck ran into a crowd and the truck's original driver, a Polish man, was found dead inside the vehicle.

The man was arrested on Monday night shortly after the atrocity. he was identified as a refugee who arrived in Germany on December 31, 2015, Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière told reporters Tuesday.

But shortly afterwards, Klaus Kandt, the head of the Berlin police, told reporters that interrogators have now cast doubt about whether the man is the perpetrator. "It is indeed not sure that he was the driver," Mr. Kandt said.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters on Tuesday "we must assume that it was a terrorist attack" and that the suspect might be a refugee.

The suspect was known to police for having committed petty crimes, but did not have a terrorist record, Mr. de Maizière said. The man arrested after the attack has denied the charges, the minister added.

German daily Die Welt first reported that the Pakistani man is not the perpetrator, citing high-ranking security sources.

"We have the wrong man," said an unnamed senior police officer quoted by the newspaper. "And therefore there's a new situation, because the real culprit is still armed and at large and can do more harm," the source said.

German tabloid Bild reported that the arrested suspect was named Naved B. This report has yet to be confirmed.

He had been staying at the refugee center in Berlin’s former Tempelhof Airport, Reuters had reported, citing security sources.

According to various media reports, the police raided a refugee shelter on Tuesday morning at the shelter. The police have not confirmed the raid.

Four men in their late twenties were interrogated at the shelter, according to Berlin broadcaster RBB, which cited a spokesperson for the city state’s refugee department. No one has been detained.

The suspect had already been known to the police under several aliases for “petty crimes,” daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reported. He offered different nationalities, at one time saying he was an Afghan and later that he was from Pakistan.

Interior Minister Mr. de Maizière confirmed earlier reports that the alleged perpetrator had entered Germany on December 31 last year in Passau, a Bavarian city on the border with Austria. "He turned up in Berlin in February," Mr. de Maizière said.

The Pakistani obtained a temporary residence permit on June 2 this year, German magazine Der Spiegel reported. However, he had not yet been granted asylum, Mr. de Maizière told reporters, adding that his asylum application was still being processed after a hearing with the immigration department was postponed several times.

There were two persons inside the Polish-registered truck that rammed into the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin on Monday evening: The driver and a Polish national, who was found dead in the cab.

Berlin police said on Twitter that this man, who was later identified as Łukasz Robert Urban, was not driving the truck when it plowed into the crowd at the Christmas market.

He was apparently killed by gunshots, German magazine Focus reported, citing Interior Minister Karl-Heinz Schröder of the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.

The gun that was used to shoot him has not yet been found, Mr. de Maizière said.

According to various sources, Mr. Urban was a 37-year old Polish truck driver working for a transport company based outside of Szczecin, a city in northwestern Poland, near the border with Germany. The owner of the trucking company, Ariel Zurawski, told TVN 24, a Polish television channel, that Mr. Urban was his cousin and worked for him, and that he couldn't be reached since around 4 p.m. on Monday.

Mr. Zurawski said on Tuesday that German authorities asked him to identify the victim from photos, the Associated Press news agency reported.

On the pictures, Mr. Urban's injuries "showed that he had defended himself," his cousin Mr. Zurawski told Die Welt, adding he was "in deep shock."


Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global in Berlin. To contact the author: [email protected]