A year after Xmas market attack, Germany admits failings
Berlin (AFP) –
Germany's president admitted Tuesday that the government failed to provide adequate support and comfort to relatives of victims in last year's devastating Christmas market attack, and admitted security gaps in the run-up to the atrocity.
A year after rejected Tunisian asylum seeker Anis Amri rammed a truck into the crowded market at Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 and wounding 70 others, the authorities have come under fire over security failings and their clumsy handling of the aftermath of the assault.
"It is true that some support came late and remained unsatisfactory," President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the bereaved and emergency workers at a private church memorial for the victims.
"Many family members and injured -- many of you -- felt abandoned by the state," he said, recalling the words of a mother who had lost her daughter and said no-one had comforted her after the attack.
"I can't get those words out of my head," he admitted, saying that the relatives' appeal to be heard had "triggered something and set it in motion."
In the hours following the assault, politicians had put on a brave front and repeated the mantra that Germany would not be cowed by terror.
But Steinmeier acknowledged such rhetoric had done little for the victims.
"So soon after the attack ... these words don't sound simply defiant and self-confident, but also strangely cold and detached," he said.
- 'We can only apologise' -
To mark the anniversary, the popular Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz will stay shut all day out of respect for the victims.
At midday, Chancellor Angela Merkel was to inaugurate a memorial -- a 14-metre (46-foot) golden crack in the ground engraved with the victims' names.
And during the evening, there will be a public ecumenical prayer at 8:02 pm (1902 GMT) -- the exact time when Amri rammed his truck into the crowded square a year ago, when people can light candles and the church's bells will chime for 12 minutes.
But the run-up to the commemoration has been marred by criticism of the authorities by families of the victims.
A wrenching open letter by some of the bereaved accused Merkel of failing to personally offer condolences.
The chancellor held her first meeting with relatives only on Monday.
Acknowledging the criticism, Merkel said: "It is clear to me that their suffering, this complete transformation of their lives, cannot be put right.
"But nevertheless we can show compassion and will improve the things that must be improved."
In an editorial in Tagesspiegel daily, Justice Minister Heiko Maas apologised.
"We were not sufficiently prepared to deal with the consequences of such a terror attack," he wrote.
"For that, we can only apologise to the victims and their surviving relatives."
- 'Taxi costs not reimbursed' -
Kurt Beck, who was commissioned by the government to look into the handling of the aftermath, last week outlined a litany of official failings, including taking up to three days to inform anxious relatives that their loved ones had perished and even sending the bereaved autopsy bills complete with late payment warnings.
Further adding to the embarrassment, Bild daily said the letter inviting relatives to Tuesday's commemoration was accompanied by an information sheet stating that "taxi costs will not be reimbursed!" and urging them to use public transport instead.
A spokeswoman for Berlin authorities, Claudia Suender, told Tagesspiegel that such information was "required under budgetary and administrative law" even if she "regretted the impression it gave."
Police also faced fierce criticism after it emerged that Amri, who arrived in Germany in 2015 and registered under several different identities, should have been deported.
On Sunday, Welt am Sonntag newspaper said the Tunisian had been under closer surveillance by Germany's secret service than previously thought, suggesting the authorities may have left him free in order to detect his instigators.
Amri himself was shot and killed four days after the attack by police in Italy, where he had previously lived.
© 2017 AFP