Europe is in shock after a single night of suspected terrorist attacks left several dead and scores more injured. The worst attack, in terms of loss of life, took place in Berlin where a truck ploughed into a Christmas market full of shoppers, killing nine and injuring an estimated 50 people. Local police have suggested that this attack was the work of a terrorist, due to its similarity to the attack in Nice, France this past July on the French holiday Bastille Day – killing 86. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the act, though it remains to be seen if they or another similar group will claim responsibility for the recent Berlin attack.
If that wasn’t enough horror for one day, several people were also wounded in a shooting at a Zurich mosque frequently attended by Somali immigrants. The suspect is on the run, according to the latest from the Zurich police force. Little information is available on the attack with conflicting reports circulating about whether the attack took place inside a mosque prayer room or outside the worship center. Shootings are very uncommon in Switzerland, despite the fact that the nation has a very high rate of gun ownership compared to other European nations. At 8 pm local time, the truck careened into the market, which was full of adults and children gathering around a cluster of traditional wooden huts where Christmas food and goods are sold. The fate of the truck driver is unknown and at least one newspaper said that the suspect was in custody. If the suspect is connected to a Middle Eastern country or is of a Muslim background, the attack will likely aggravate populist movements within Germany and throughout Europe, which maintain that the massive influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa are “at war” with their European culture. The attack also comes less than a month after the US State Department warned that the Islamic State would target “festivals” and “outdoor markets” in Europe during the holiday season.
In addition, a successful assassination attempt in Ankara claimed the life of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. Karlov was several minutes into a speech at an embassy-sponsored exhibition at a photo gallery when an estimated 8 shots were fired by a lone gunman. The gunman, a local police officer dressed in a formal suit and tie, allegedly shouted “Don’t forget Aleppo. Don’t forget Syria” followed by “Allahu akbar” as he opened fire, killing Karlov and injuring three others. The assailant was subsequently gunned down by police. Russian President Vladimir Putin promptly condemned the killings, calling it an attempt to derail attempts to peacefully resolve the long-standing Syrian conflict. He added that he wanted to know who had “directed” the assassination. Meanwhile, in Syria, US-backed opposition forces celebrated the attack, with a prominent opposition figure saying “Putin is paying the price” and called the assassination “a holiday present [to Putin] from Turkey.”
In the coming days, we can expect more details to emerge that will paint a clearer picture of these events and what really motivated them. However, based on the facts currently available, the ties of some of the attackers to the Islamic State and Syrian opposition is interesting considering the timing of the attacks. The Islamic state and US-backed “rebel” groups have suffered major defeats recently at the hands of the Syrian government and their Russian allies. In addition, some of the “rebels” were recently the focus of some negative media attention after lighting Aleppo evacuation buses aflame, closing off evacuation and aid routes for the embattled metropolis and the surrounding area. Could these attacks be a signal that the Islamic State is desperate and near defeat? Or could they instead be an excuse for Europe and NATO to become militarily involved in the Syrian conflict? We’ll know soon enough.