Merkel said she was "shocked, shaken and deeply saddened."

  20 December 2016 19:32

Kirsten Grieshabera & Frank Jordans/Associated Press - The driver who rammed a truck into a crowded Christmas market in the heart of the German capital, killing at least 12 people and injuring nearly 50, did so intentionally, police said Tuesday. Chancellor Angela Merkel said authorities believe it was a terror attack.

The truck smashed into the popular Christmas market filled with tourists and locals outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church near Berlin's Zoo station late Monday.

"Our investigators are working on the assumption that the truck was intentionally driven into the crowd at the Christmas market on Breitscheidplatz," Berlin police said on Twitter.

Merkel said she was "shocked, shaken and deeply saddened."

"There is still a lot that we don't know about this act with sufficient certainty," she told reporters. "But we must, as things stand, assume it was a terrorist attack."

Numerous German media reported that the suspect, who was picked up about 2 kilometers from the crash site, was a Pakistani citizen.

Footage showed the suspect, his head covered in a white sheet, being pushed into a police car shortly after the attack.

Berlin's public radio station RBB-Inforadio cited security sources saying the man entered Germany on Dec. 31, 2015. News agency dpa, also citing unnamed security sources, said he came to Germany as a refugee in February 2016. Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper reported that the man was known to police for minor crimes.

Police declined to comment on the reports, referring questions to federal prosecutors who said they would hold a news conference Tuesday afternoon. But Merkel, who has been criticized for allowing in large numbers of migrants, addressed head-on the possibility that an asylum-seeker was responsible.

"I know that it would be particularly hard for us all to bear if it were confirmed that a person committed this act who asked for protection and asylum in Germany," Merkel said. "This would be particularly sickening for the many, many Germans who work to help refugees every day and for the many people who really need our help and are making an effort to integrate in our country."

A spokesman for Berlin's office for refugee affairs said police conducted a large-scale search overnight at a large shelter for asylum-seekers at the city's now-defunct Tempelhof airport. Four men in their late 20s were questioned but nobody was arrested, Sascha Langenbach told The Associated Press.

Among the dead was a man in the truck, who succumbed as paramedics treated him, Berlin police spokesman Winfried Wenzel said. Police said later that the man was a Polish national, but didn't give further details of who he was or what happened to him.

The Polish owner of the truck said he feared the vehicle may have been hijacked. Ariel Zurawski said he last spoke with the driver, his cousin, around noon, and the driver told him he was in Berlin and scheduled to unload Tuesday morning. "They must have done something to my driver," he told TVN24.

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