Europeans must resist attempts to divide them

The attack in Germany has brought fear and increased the pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel. But the continent must protect its cherished values of equality and tolerance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 1:11am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 1:11am

Christmas tradition is steeped in peace and goodwill. But the truck attack on a Berlin market by a suspected Islamist that killed 12 and injured 49 has also brought fear and loathing to Europe. Populist right-wingers have unsurprisingly blamed the tragedy on migration policies, taking particular aim at German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But her government and others with humane approaches to asylum cannot be faulted; terrorism can be carried out by anyone who perceives a weak link in surveillance and security.

The string of terror strikes across the continent in the past year revealed shortcomings in surveillance and intelligence-sharing between governments. The man sought by police for Monday’s killings had been on their radar earlier this year, but let go for a lack of evidence. His asylum claim had been rejected, yet he had not been deported. Documents found in the truck beside the Polish driver who was found dead in the passenger seat link the suspect to the incident, but it is not certain he was behind the wheel at the time; no CCTV was installed in the area and none of the dozens of people the vehicle ploughed into caught a glimpse of him. The suspect was shot dead in Italy last night.

Prime suspect in Berlin Christmas market attack shot dead in Milan, according to security officials

Several terror attacks in Germany over the past year failed to alter conservative views on the use of CCTV in public places, but that has changed now that the worst such strike in 36 years has taken place; laws providing for security cameras have been swiftly drafted. Procedures for handling asylum cases are being scrutinised. But there is also pressure on Merkel, who plans to stand for election to a fourth term next year.

The far-right has been relentless in its criticism, saying the chancellor is to blame for the deaths; one leader tweeted a picture of her spattered in blood. There are calls for the reinforcing of borders and for reviews of refugee policies. But Europe’s cherished values of equality and tolerance are under fire. Christmas is a time for reflection. Europeans have to resist attempts to divide them through race and religion.