Czech political leaders have offered their condolences to Germany in the wake of Monday’s terrorist attack on a Christmas market in Berlin which killed 12 people and left 48 others injured. Following the incident, security was stepped up at sites in the Czech Republic.
Last month, the US issued a warning to its citizens that Europe was facing a “heightened risk of terror attacks” at Christmas markets and other holiday events. Tragically, the State Department’s warning proved true on Monday in Berlin. Witnesses said a transport truck had been going at 40 miles per hour had ploughed into a Christmas market in the west of the city. A suspect was apprehended not long afterwards, thought to have hijacked the truck after killing its Polish driver. It has since been reported that the German police, however, got the wrong man, meaning the person who committed the atrocity is still at large, raising significant concerns.
Security expert and former head of Czech military intelligence Andor Šándor told Czech Radio that the Berlin attack had clearly been inspired by the attack earlier in the year, on Bastille Day, in France.
“What is readily apparent is that the person was inspired by the attack in Nice this summer. He obtained a truck, on purpose, to drive into a crowd of people in a holiday area… You have a situation where would-be attackers reach for tools they are comfortable with to try and carry out an attack. Some will opt for a truck, other for weapons.”
In Berlin, no Czechs were reported among the 12 dead or almost 50 injured. Nevertheless the tragedy led to security at key areas in the neighbouring Czech Republic to be beefed up: police with machine guns were dispatched, for example, to monitor Prague’s Old Town Square and other sites in the Czech capital where visitors have been taking in the holiday atmosphere. Security at other so-called “soft targets” such as airports and shopping malls is also likely to be heightened and further steps are to be discussed by the prime minister in special consultations on Tuesday afternoon.
The country’s intelligence services said there is no evidence of impending danger, but if there is one thing that the attacks in Europe have proven, it is that even international cooperation by the police and various security services cannot prevent all plots from being hatched – or protect all potential targets.
Following the attack in Berlin, Radio Prague visited Christmas markets in the Czech capital on Tuesday. Here’s what some of the attendees had to say:
Woman: “I can say that I am afraid, I am keeping my eyes peeled, looking at people around. You are more careful as a result.”
Man: “I am not afraid: I have faith that the police and the state know what they are doing and are looking into the matter. Of course, anything can happen and it is up to each of us to deal with the possibility in his own way. But I think reacting in fear is the worst thing that can happen.”
Expressing condolences, Culture Minister Daniel Herman said that hope must not be overshadowed by evil; Czech MEP Jaromír Štětina maintained that Europe needed to stay strong and not to allow developments to be manipulated by populists or the political fringe.
“One of the answers, maybe the only answer, is for Europe to remain united. We have to stand up to divisive attempts, wherever they come from... to prevent further cataclysms.”