The Chief Federal Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday (Dec. 20) freed a man suspected of killing 12 people and wounding 48 others at a Christmas Market in Berlin a day earlier.
In a statement explaining the move, the prosecutor’s office said, “The investigation up to now did not yield any urgent suspicion against the accused.” The suspect made “extensive statements” during the hearing, according to the prosecutor’s office, Reuters reported – but denied the offense.
The prosecutor’s office said was forced to free their only suspect due to a “lack of evidence” as it was impossible to track the truck driver via eyewitness accounts following the attack.
The investigation has so far been unable to prove the suspect, a young Pakistani national, was in the cab of the truck at the exact time and place of the attack. German officials have only 24 hours to seek a formal arrest warrant to extend the remand of a suspect in custody.
German Interior Minister Thomas Maiziere told journalists, “One cannot rule out that the perpetrator is still at large.”
The Islamic State (ISIS, or Da’esh) terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Authorities have warned residents and tourists to be “particularly vigilant” and report any “suspicious movement” to a special hotline.
The U.S. State Department went much further, much earlier, warning American travelers last month of a “heightened risk of terrorist attacks throughout Europe, particularly during the holiday season.”
American travelers in Europe are cautioned to be especially careful at “holiday festivals, events and outdoor markets” in what now seems to have been a particularly prescient alert.
The Islamic State terrorist organization has claimed responsibility for the truck-ramming attack on a crowded Christmas market in west Berlin on Monday evening.
The heavy truck with a Polish license plate rammed into crowds of shoppers at 40 miles per hour, tearing through stalls filled with food and drink and holiday gifts for sale. The attack was horrifyingly similar in style to the terrorist attack in the southern French city of Nice this past July.
At least nine people were killed, with conflicting reports on the number of injured at the outdoor market near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz Square.
Police labeled the incident a terrorist attack, European media reported. The driver of the truck was arrested after trying to flee. A passenger who had been in the cab of the truck died on the ground at the scene. Berlin police said they believe the truck drove 50 to 80 meters (54 to 87 yards) through the market before coming to a stop.
Berlin police also are urging locals to stay home tonight, as is German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who — setting the example — says she is “mourning the dead.”
The Polish firm which lets out the truck reports it has not been able to contact the original driver, a Polish national, since 4 pm Monday, just a few hours before the attack.
The attack took place one hour after the assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, 62, by an off-duty Turkish police officer.
The killer pumped at least five bullets into the diplomat while yelling, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ (God is Great, in Arabic), and ‘Don’t forget Aleppo!’ Unconfirmed reports said the assassin was a member of the diplomat’s own security detail in Ankara.
“U.S. citizens should exercise caution at holiday festivals, events, and outdoor markets,” the alert read.
“Credible information indicates the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, ISIL or Da’esh), Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates continue to plan terrorist attacks in Europe, with a focus on the upcoming holiday season and associated events,” it continued.
“U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility that extremist sympathizers or self-radicalized extremists may conduct attacks during this period with little or no warning. Terrorists may employ a wide variety of tactics, using both conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests.
Americans were warned to “exercise vigilance when attending large holiday events, visiting tourist sites, using public transportation, and frequenting places of worship, restaurants, hotels, etc. Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds, when possible.”
The Max Stern Foundation, overseeing Jewish art dealer Max Stern’s estate for his heirs, expects to take possession of two paintings by Dutch old masters Jan Porcellis and Willem Buytewech the Younger, The Art Newspaper reported Monday.
Stern was forced by the Nazi Chamber of Fine Arts in September 1937 to close his business, because all Jewish citizens had been forbidden from selling art. In November, Stern was forced to auction off a large segment of the Stern Gallery by order of the Nazi government. These artworks were sold in one of Germany’s oldest auction houses, Kunsthaus Lempertz. They went on the block by their lot number, Auktion 392. Not all the pieces were sold, and Stern placed those that remained in storage with shipping agent Josef Roggendorf. Roggendorf stored the artwork close to the Düsseldorf gallery, but eventually it was confiscated by the Nazis.
Jan Porcellis, Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea
Stern then spent several years trying to track down his 28 confiscated paintings. He advertised in the German art magazine Die Weltkunst, offering a reward for any information pertaining to the location of his paintings. The works Musical Party by Dirck Hals and Landscape with Figures by Salomon van Ruysdael were eventually recovered with help from the Canadian government after the war. Last Judgment by Hieronymus Bosch was returned in 1954. Other works were never found.
Now an anonymous tip from an art trade informer alerted the foundation that Ships in Distress on a Stormy Sea by Jan Porcellis (~1584-1632) was for sale at Auktionhaus Metz in Heidelberg. Also, Germany’s Federal Crime Office identified Landscape With Goats by Willem Buytewech the Younger (1625-70) which was advertised at Auktionshaus Stahl in Hamburg.
In both cases, the sellers agreed to return the works in “amicable discussions,” according to the foundation.
The Max Stern Foundation has announced that it is developing a program with the German Friends of Hebrew University, to compensate good-faith holders of Stern’s missing paintings. Under the new program, the foundation would issue holders who turn in Stern’s works a tax-deductible donor’s certificate stating their value, for tax purposes.
“There has been a recurrence of these works being consigned by individuals in good faith,” Clarence Epstein, Senior Director of Urban and Cultural Affairs at Concordia, told The Art Newspaper. “This solution means that they can get some relief despite having a problematic artwork.”
The above headline is actually the greeting at a new German website called RentaJew.org, right below the big, capped WILLKOMMEN.
“Why ‘Rent a Jew?'” says the “About” section, explaining: “Cars can be rented, but Jews? This may initially sound offensive. After all, for hundreds of years, anti-Semites have claimed that Jews are less valuable than other people. We are tired of hearing such suggestions. And we believe that humor mixed with a bit of chutzpah is the best way to refute old stereotypes and prejudices and show how absurd they are.”
There are 250,000 Jews in Germany, but few Germans know a Jew personally, according to Rent-a Jew. They want to change that by creating encounters between Jews and non-Jews – “away from stereotypes and stereotypes.”
“With Rent a Jew it becomes possible to talk to each other instead of about one another,” argues the website, “to answer questions on both sides and to dismantle prejudices.”
An initiative launched by the Munich-based European Janusz Korczak Academy with help from the Jewish Agency for Israel, provides speakers to educational institutions or groups of any size, for school classes, adult education courses, church communities, student groups or cultural associations.
Rent a Jew provides Jews of different ages and backgrounds who are “as colorful as Judaism itself.” They are not professional speakers or experts, they are the Jews next door with their own personal stories and opinions, as well as much else, “from food to music, literature and religion” – anything goes (almost).
Rent-a Jew’s Mascha Schmerling told Deutsche Welle the new service is there ” to provoke, to promote conversation. We want to give people the chance to talk to the Jewish community. We want them to see that we’re completely normal people. We don’t want to be defined purely by history and we don’t want to always be seen through this Holocaust lens.”
A statement by the Justice Ministry said, “Following new information received… from Israel Police and in view of other developments in connection with the matter… the Attorney-General has ordered an investigation to be carried out by police concerning various aspects of the issue.”
The probe is being held to determine if Shimron acted out of a conflict of interest, among other issues.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday that the purchase of the submarines, which will brings Israel’s fleet up to nine, was the right decision for the country. He added that the move was supported by “a large consensus in the security and political establishment.”
The decision to purchase the subs was made by the government after recommendations by the security cabinet, the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry. Israeli media have been focused on scrutinizing the move, with Israel’s Channel 10 TV news among those who have been accused of seeking ways to undermine the prime minister.
Shimron has been the prime minister’s personal lawyer for many years, but is also representing the German company that sells the submarines. Channel 10 has alleged the sale was opposed by the IDF and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
An IDF spokesperson said earlier this month, however, that the military had informed the cabinet of a “need” for new submarines. The National Security Agency (NSA), said in a statement that there was been a “wave of false reports” and that in fact, the deal with Germany to purchase the latest group of new submarines was fully supported by Ya’alon.
But the decision, made by the government after recommendations by the security cabinet, the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry, is under scrutiny by some Israeli media that has been said to be seeking ways to undermine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Attorney David Shimron, who has been the prime minister’s personal lawyer for many years, is also representing the German company that sells the submarines — a sale Israel’s Channel 10 has alleged was opposed by the IDF and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon.
An IDF spokesperson said Thursday, however, that the military had informed the cabinet of a “need” for new submarines. The National Security Agency (NSA), said in a statement that there has been a “wave of false reports” and that in fact, the deal with Germany to purchase the latest group of new submarines was fully supported by Ya’alon.
Israel’s Channel 10, accused of a vendetta against Netanyahu, reported Tuesday night that Shimron is being accused of a serious conflict of interest because he represents both the German shipbuilder and has held high-level meetings with its Israeli representative, Miki Ganor.
Shimron told media in a statement, “I have not spoken with any state officials about the privatization of the naval shipyard nor have I dealt with any state officials about vessels purchased by the State of Israel.”
Likewise, Netanyahu told Channel 10 that he has never discussed Shimron’s private clients with him. “The only reason for the deal with the Germans is strategic and economic considerations,” he said.
In a statement on his Facebook page late Wednesday, the prime minister noted that the agreement on the submarines was carried out “in an orderly, professional manner with no outside influence and with the recommendation of all the professional bodies in the Defense Ministry, the IDF and the National Security Agency.”
Netanyahu announced at a cabinet meeting last month that negotiations were close to completion for the purchase of three more submarines for the Israel Navy, at a cost of NIS 6 billion ($1.5 billion), pointing out the acquisition was a strategically important move.
The prime minister has said the submarines will play an important part in the protection of Israel’s natural gas fields, and in the defense of the Jewish State against a nuclear-armed Iran.
“The acquisition of ships was done in a professional, organized way without any external influences,” said the National Security Council in a statement.
“In the course of preparations to protect natural gas fields and installations the government decided to purchase four ships. The decision was taken on recommendation of the security administration, the National Security Council and the Foreign Ministry. During the course of our investigation, a number of possibilities were suggested for acquiring ships in accordance with the operational requirements of the IDF. At the end of our professional investigation it was decided based on political, operational, technological and budgetary considerations to base the acquisition on the agreement between the Israeli and German governments.”
The Council also underlined the fact that then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon was involved in the decision-making process.
“The decision was supported by then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the Finance Ministry, and various officials from other government offices. It was also supported by then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon in accordance with the IDF’s position. Within the framework of the deal, Israel was granted a significant grant from the German government by virtue of the special relationship between the two nations, rendering the cost of the project lower than any of the other alternatives.”
Former head of the National Security Council General Yaacov Amidror (res.) explains to Channel 2 how the process of deciding to buy the submarines was made (in Hebrew):
German police on Tuesday morning carried out more than 200 raids against the “True Religion” Salafist group, Deutsche Welle reported. The raids took place in more than 200 homes and offices across 10 federal states.
According to Soeren Kern, Salafists make up only a fraction of the estimated five million Muslims in Germany, but authorities believe they attract impressionable young Muslims who are potential candidates for carrying out terrorist acts in the name of Islam. The Salafists, a movement that originated in Saudi Arabia, openly promote replacing German democracy with an Islamic government based on sharia law.
The Interior Ministry at 6:30 AM local time Tuesday confirmed the raids in a tweet, and announced a ban of the organization. Out of the 200 cells, 65 raids were carried out in the state of Hesse, 15 of them in Frankfurt.
Last week, German authorities arrested five men accused of aiding the Islamic State in Germany by recruiting members and providing financial and logistical help. The arrests were made in raids in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the northern state of Lower Saxony. German Justice Minister Heiko Maas called the arrests “an important blow to the extremist scene in Germany.”
Among those arrested a week ago was Ahmad Abdelaziz, an Iraqi citizen known as Abu Walaa, 32, a preacher who has been a leading figure of the Jihadi movement in Germany. Walaa has been at the center of a year- long investigation, which also yielded arrests in the city of Hildesheim in July 2016.
Abu Walaa’s arrest was likely based on information provided by a former ISIS fighter, Anil O., 22, who identified Walaa as Germany’s ISIS leader. The mass raids that followed on Tuesday most likely were based on information received through last week’s arrests.