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Germany's Merkel, top security brass mull response to Berlin attack

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks during a press conference on December 20, 2016, in Berlin after an alleged terrorist attack at a Christmas market. (Photo by AFP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has summoned the country’s top security authorities for talks on how the government should respond to the truck attack in Berlin that killed at least 12 people.

Merkel’s decision on Tuesday came after she first reacted to the deadly attack, which also injured nearly 50 more, by stating, "There is still a lot that we don't know about this act with sufficient certainty. But we must, as things stand, assume it was a terrorist attack."

The incident took place late Monday when a truck plowed into a popular Christmas market packed with tourists as well as local shoppers outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church near Berlin's Zoo station.

The broken wind shield of a truck that crashed into a Christmas market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Berlin on December 20, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

"I know that it would be particularly hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that a person committed this act who asked for protection and asylum in Germany," Merkel said.

She further emphasized, "This would be particularly sickening for the many, many Germans, who work to help refugees every day and for the many people, who really need our help and are making an effort to integrate in our country."

This is while police authorities conducted a large-scale search overnight at a large shelter for asylum-seekers at the city's now-defunct Tempelhof airport, according to a spokesman for Berlin's office for refugee affairs, who added that four men in their late 20s were questioned but no one was detained.

While details of the alleged attack and elements behind it still remain sketchy, police authorities maintain that the truck “appeared to have been driven intentionally,” as cited in local news reports.

Policemen patrol over a Christmas market in Duesseldorf, western Germany, on December 20, 2016, as security measures are taken after a deadly rampage by a truck driver at a Berlin Christmas market. (Photo by AFP)

Police officers have reportedly detained a man, identified as a Pakistani citizen, about 2 kilometers from the crash scene on suspicion of having been at the wheel of the truck.

According to German media, the Pakistani man was a refugee that entered the country either in December 2015 or February 2016. Police authorities have declined to confirm such reports and referred queries to federal prosecutors, who were due to hold a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, major local newspaper, Die Welt, cited senior security sources as saying on Tuesday that police authorities believe the Pakistani suspect arrested in the case “was not the actual perpetrator.”

"We have the wrong man, and therefore a new situation, and the true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause fresh damage," said a senior police chief as quoted by the daily.

This is while Germany's Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere also announced on Tuesday that the suspect in custody had denied involvement in the attack.

"He denies the act," de Maiziere told journalists, adding that the arrested man is Pakistani and had arrived in Germany on December 31, 2015, seeking asylum.

German police release Pakistani suspect

Later on Tuesday, German media quoted prosecutors as saying that the Pakistani asylum seeker suspected of involvement in Berlin truck attack had been released.

"The accused, detained over the attack on the Berlin Christmas market on December 19, 2016, was let go on this evening on the orders of the federal prosecutor," his office said in a statement.

"The forensic tests carried out so far did not provide evidence of the accused's presence during the crimes in the cab of the lorry," the statement added.

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