NY police bolster security in wake of Berlin attack

Police officers with bullet proof vests and assault rifles are standing in amongst stalls selling festive season gifts.

Police walk before the truck that had sped into a Christmas market in Berlin, on 19 December, 2016, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens more. Picture: AFP.

NEW YORK – New York City has stepped up its security at Christmas markets across the city in the wake of the deadly truck attack in Berlin on Monday.

No specific threat has been reported in the city but as a precaution, the New York police department is deploying heavily-armed critical response officers.

At a time when New York City is experiencing a record 60 million number of tourists, increased security is top of mind for authorities.

The city’s counter terrorism unit has been deployed to high-profile areas like Union Square, Columbus Circle and Bryant Park, where seasonal markets are set up.

Police officers with bullet proof vests and assault rifles are also standing in amongst stalls selling festive season gifts.

It’s understood authorities have also contacted truck companies in and around the city as a proactive approach to events in Berlin and Nice earlier this year.

SUSPECTED DRIVER RELEASED

German authorities on Tuesday released a Pakistani asylum-seeker suspected of driving a truck into a Berlin Christmas market and killing 12 people due to a lack of evidence and the interior minister said the real perpetrator may still be on the run.

The truck smashed into wooden huts serving mulled wine and sausages on Monday evening at the foot of the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church, one of west Berlin’s most famous landmarks. Forty-five people were injured, 30 severely.

Islamic State claimed responsibility the attack, saying the perpetrator was a “soldier” of the militant group.

“He executed the operation in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition countries,” its AMAQ news agency said.

But Germany’s interior minister said that despite the claim, investigators were following various leads.

“We just heard about the supposed claim of responsibility by this so-called Islamic State that is in fact a gang of terrorists,” Minister Thomas de Maiziere told ARD broadcaster. “There are several leads that investigators are following now.”

The Chief Federal Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement it had been unable to prove that the suspect had been in the cabin of the truck at the time of the attack and said he had denied any involvement.

Earlier, Die Welt newspaper quoted an unnamed police chief as saying: “We have the wrong man. And therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, at large and can cause fresh damage.”

Commenting on the suspect’s release, de Maiziere told ZDF television: “That’s why it is true that one cannot rule out that the perpetrator is still at large.”

He said there was no doubt the Berlin incident had been an attack but the motive remained unclear. He also said it was not yet known how many foreigners were among the victims of the attack but no children had been among the dead.

News of the arrest of the 23-year-old Pakistani had led politicians in Germany and beyond to demand a crackdown on immigration, but Chancellor Angela Merkel urged caution.

“There is much we still do not know with sufficient certainty but we must, as things stand now, assume it was a terrorist attack,” she told reporters earlier on Tuesday.

“I know it would be especially hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that the person who committed this act was someone who sought protection and asylum,” she said.

(Edited by Leeto M Khoza)