The German flag shown at half-staff Tuesday in a photo issued by the German Federal Foreign Office. (German Foreign Office)

Less than a month after the U.S. State Department warned travelers about a heightened risk of terrorism in Europe during the holiday season, a hijacked truck barreled into a crowded German Christmas market Monday night, killing 12 and injuring 48 others.

The incident “appears to have been a terrorist attack,” the White House said in a statement on Monday. The United Nations Security Council also condemned “the barbaric and cowardly terrorist attack.”

Islamic State’s news agency claimed responsibility, saying one of its soldiers carried out the attack “in response to calls to target nationals of the coalition countries.”

German officials are divided on whether the incident was committed by Islamic extremists.

Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, told reporters Tuesday, “We must assume at the current time that it was a terrorist attack.”

Other officials, including German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziére and German federal prosecutor Peter Frank, expressed uncertainty about Islamic State’s claim.

“We have not limited ourselves to one suspect or one possible perpetrator,” Frank said Tuesday morning. “But we can’t make a final assessment whether it is a terrorism-motivated attack, or whether it was a copycat act.”

The White House has offered its assistance in identifying the perpetrators.

President-elect Donald Trump has condemned the attack in a statement, citing Islamist terrorism, according to the AP. Islamic extremists should be “eradicated from the face of the earth,” he said.

The steel beam-filled truck, which has been identified as belonging to a Polish haulage company, is reported to have driven over a sidewalk and into a crowded Christmas market in Breitscheidplatz, near Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in western Berlin. Witnesses say it bulldozed through vendors’ stalls, trapping people under the stands and the truck.

A “suspicious person”—later identified as a 23-year-old Pakistani refugee—was arrested near the scene soon after, police said, while the passenger—the truck’s original driver—was reportedly found dead at the scene with gunshot and stab wounds.

Since there were no surveillance cameras at the scene, police have taken to crowdsourcing videos and photos to advance their investigation.

The Berlin police force has been posting updates on the investigation on Twitter.

The owner of the truck told the media that his cousin had been driving the truck in to Berlin, NPR reports, and he fears his truck had been hijacked.

The U.S. State Department alerted citizens to a “heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season,” in November.

“U.S. citizens should exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets,” the travel alert read. “Credible information indicates the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events.”

Prior to the attack, German officials also expressed concern about security at Christmas markets, which are popular destinations for holiday shopping. However, the market in Breitscheidplatz did not have barrier reinforcements, according to the AP.

The supposed terrorist attack is reminiscent of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, earlier this year—which the Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for—when an armed truck killed more than 80 people by driving into a crowd of people celebrating the French holiday.

“The incident in Berlin is the latest in a string of attacks in Germany over the past 12 months,” CNN reports. Since July, there have been suicide bomber attacks, arrests in connection with suspected plans for terrorism and killings in Munich and Bavaria.

This latest event has fueled the German right-wing’s anti-immigration sentiments. The leader of the Alternative for Germany party, Marcus Pretzell, tweeted on Monday: “It is Merkel’s dead!”

Merkel’s open-door policy allowed 890,000 refugees into Germany last year, according to the BBC.

For live updates on the investigation, follow Zeit Online’s reports.

Posted by KiMi Robinson

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