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Berlin attackers remain on the loose

AAP logoAAP 20/12/2016

One or more perpetrators remain on the loose in Germany after a Pakistani refugee detained on suspicion of carrying out a deadly truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market was released from custody after no evidence was found to link him to the attack that claimed 12 lives.

The federal prosecutor's office in the city of Karlsruhe said that investigations had failed to prove conclusively that the 23-year-old committed any crime but authorities say the man has provided considerable information during questioning, although he denied involvement in the Monday evening attack.

Witnesses who claimed they had followed the man when he fled the crime scene had not had an uninterrupted view of him, and there was no recording of him in the cabin of the truck, investigations showed.

"We've got the wrong man and therefore a new situation. The true perpetrator is still armed, on the loose and can do fresh damage," German newspaper Die Welt cited a police official as saying earlier in the day.

Writing on Twitter, German police urged Berliners to be "particularly alert."

The attack at the Christmas market in the west of the city left at least 12 dead and nearly 50 injured, 24 of whom have been released from hospital, German police said.

The Islamic State extremist group used its Aamaq Agency outlet to claim responsibility saying the attacker was a "soldier of the Islamic State" who acted in response to calls to target citizens of the coalition of states combating the organisation.

The claim, issued via Aamaq and attributed to a "security source", is typical of how Islamic State has declared itself responsible for previous attacks in Europe.

The brief claim did not name the attacker or shed any light on his fate. Islamic State usually names attackers in statements that it issues later in its own name, not in initial claims via Aamaq.

Rita Katz, director of monitoring firm SITE, tweeted this was "the first Aamaq claim for a attacker while still alive; attackers in #France #Russia #America #Germany, etc. all killed prior to claim."

Police chief Holger Muench says six of the fatalities have been identified as German nationals, while five other bodies remain unidentified.

Among the dead was a Polish national who was a passenger in the truck and found shot dead at the scene. The murder weapon hasn't been recovered, said Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere.

The Polish man was apparently alive at the time of the attack, Germany's tabloid Bild reported in its online edition. Investigators spoke of potential evidence of a struggle before the truck ploughed into the crowded market. He was found dead in the truck.

Germany's top prosecutor Peter Frank said that the method used in the attack was reminiscent of the truck attack in Nice, which left 86 people dead in July.

Islamic State has been linked to three terrorist attacks on German soil this year.

The Christmas market carnage comes less than six months after two terrorist attacks claimed by Islamic State were carried out by people registered as asylum seekers in the country.

The attacks have led many to doubt Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to keep German borders open to refugees last year after with 890,000 migrants entering the country in 2015.

"Like millions of people in Germany, I am deeply saddened and horrified at what happened yesterday at Berlin's Breitscheidplatz," Merkel said in response to the attack, referring to the square around the landmark Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church. "We do not want to live in fear of evil."

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