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Flowers, press and police surround Berlin terrorist attack site

Police, journalists and onlookers were scattered around the damaged Christmas market the day after the terrorist attack. DW's Ben Knight joined them.

Police, many of them armed with automatic weapons, kept themselves warm on Tuesday by ordering people away from their red and white plastic cordoning tape. Keeping a tight perimeter at the site of the terrorist attack was, incidentally, one of their only tasks of the day.

Even though boarded fences had been set up around the area, there were still a handful of journalists and onlookers standing in the gray cold morning. No one was allowed within 30 meters (about 100 feet) of the actual spot where the truck - the front part of which, with its shattered windscreen still visible above the fence - had finally come to a stop after being used as a weapon to kill 12 people on Monday night.

People were making contributions to the small cluster of flowers and mourning candles that had been set up in a corner - though some Berliners have idiosyncratic ways of expressing grief. One man, who described himself as Kosovo Albanian, pulled half a dozen bread rolls from a plastic shopping bag, solemnly laid them in the midst of the foliage, submitted to a TV interview during which he almost wept, and then suddenly began cursing the city's "gypsies" after being jostled by a woman pushing a children's buggy. He later got involved in a tussle with another onlooker.

Watch video 01:11

Grief follows the attack in Berlin

But even on Berlin's occasionally fractious character, the attack left marks: Robert, who has lived in the area all his life, was standing looking dazed near the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, and began talking about his stallholder friend who had been only meters away when the truck came to a halt. "He's sitting at home still in shock," he said.

Another woman, who did not want to give her name, was also visibly shaken. "I think this will really change Berlin. You always thank God that it hasn't happened here yet," she said. "I already feel scared getting in the U-Bahn. I pray every day for peace in the world."

Near brush with death

Guido Wagner, a newcomer to Berlin, had arranged to meet his extended foster family here the evening before, but arriving late, missed the incident by a little over half an hour. He returned in the morning because he had nowhere else to go and no way to contact his relatives.

"I'm almost worn out. I don't even know whether they're alive or dead," he told DW. "I hope whoever did this gets his just punishment. And I was hoping there was some explanation from the mayor or from Merkel."

Within a minutes of conversation, Wagner had fixed on his own conclusions - Germany's refugee policy. "I would have liked Merkel to close the borders much earlier, like Turkey did," he said. "If I'd have been in Merkel's place, I would have let in a few refugees, but I would have made sure there were enough shelters for them first. Look, here at the Zoo Station, there are some refugees living on the streets with their children - is that normal in this day and age?"

Deutschland Berlin nach Anschlag auf Breitscheidplatz - Trauer (DW/B. Knight)

Berliners turned out on Tuesday to pay their respects to the victims of the terrorist attack at Breitscheidplatz

Another onlooker who had just missed the attack was Hakeem, a Nigerian who has barely been in Berlin for two months. "There was noise and people moving away from the area," he said. "Berlin is a good place for everyone to live. I don't know why this happened yesterday. It's stopping my heart."

"Mostly people are very friendly in Berlin - they don't care who you are, no racism," he added, before showing the Muslim prayer book he keeps in his backpack. "Berlin is a good place to live. If I want to pray now, I can go anywhere and use my prayer mat. This guy is not a Muslim. This is not a Muslim heart, this is a heart of terrorism. A good Muslim has to accept Jesus Christ as your savior as well."

Muslim community: 'Horror, shock and pain'

The Pakistani Embassy would not comment on the possibility that the main suspect was a Pakistani citizen, but described the attack as a "heinous attack" and a "terrible tragedy."

"The official account of the attack and the ongoing investigation suggests that the identity of the perpetrator is far from established," the embassy said in a statement issued in the early evening. "Keeping in view the initial false impression about the confirmed identity of the perpetrator, we need to be careful in not jumping to any premature conclusions, which can unduly harm the image of any community or country, and vitiate the environment. Truth should not become a victim of fear."

Other members of Berlin's Pakistani community had more to say. The Muslim minority community Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, many of whom are Pakistani, released a statement early on Tuesday condemning the attack. "With horror, shock, and pain we have learned of the murderous attack on innocent people," the statement read.

"We consider ourselves a German community, we've been here since 1923, and so our first impulse is to express our sympathy like any other German organization," Ahmadiyya spokesman Mohammad Dawood Majoka told DW. "But of course there is always some pressure on us to distance ourselves, so we want to make it official and public."

The Ahmadiyya are often persecuted by extremists in Pakistan, and Germany was among the first countries to grant them asylum. Majoka said they were planning a service and prayers at the site at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, which he expected some 200 people to attend.

There are said to be around 45,000 Ahmadiyya in Germany, and a few hundred in Berlin, and Majoka added that he was certain that the suspect could not have been a member of his community, not only because it is a reformist organization whose teachings are "absolutely peaceful," but also because they keep a central registration system of all members.

"If it turns out he is Pakistani, it would feel we were being doubly persecuted - firstly at home in Pakistan, and secondly by being brought into disrepute by association."

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