Berlin Christmas Market Attack: Lack Of Security Camera Footage Hinders Investigation

The attack on a Berlin Christmas market on Monday has the whole world in mourning as German authorities continue their search for suspects while politicians and citizens alike try to make sense of the tragedy that took the lives of 12 people and injured dozens more. The search is being complicated by the absence of security camera footage that would typically be available for similar events occurring elsewhere in Europe and the United States in busy parts of cities and at crowded public places like a Christmas market.

Mourners at Berlin Christmas market.
Mourners pay their respects at the site of the Berlin Christmas market. Authorities say that lack of security camera footage is adding a layer of difficulty to the investigation. [Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

One suspect has been detained, a 23-year-old refugee from Pakistan, but according to the Washington Post, German police are in doubt that he is the responsible party in the attack on the Christmas market. Today, experts are trying to piece together the available evidence, which includes forensics taken from inside the truck used in the attack and cell phone footage of the aftermath captured by bystanders.

According to the New York Times, there is no security camera footage of the attack on the market in Berlin due to German attitudes toward surveillance. Such security footage has been historically helpful to investigators in piecing together similar tragic events such as an attack in Nice, France, several months back, which bears striking resemblance to last night’s attack in Berlin. Security camera footage of that attack was helpful in the investigation by authorities, according to BBC News.

Investigations of attacks like the one in Nice from earlier this year have been assisted by the availability of security camera footage. [Image by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images]

The Christmas market attack and the ensuing investigation come shortly after authorities in Berlin successfully apprehended a suspect in the infamous “train kicker” incident that was captured on security camera footage from a Berlin underground train station. In that footage, a man seen holding a cigarette and a beer bottle is seen approaching a woman from behind and kicking her in the back as she walked down the stairs toward the entrance to one of the underground railway stations scattered throughout the city. The video received worldwide attention and was assumed to be a hate crime by many viewers. It can be argued that without the presence of this security footage, it would have been nearly impossible for authorities to identify the suspect, named by Deutsche Welle as Bulgarian national Svetoslav S. This has caused police organizations in Germany to call for an increased presence of security cameras in public places.

“The incriminating footage was captured by a camera owned by Berlin’s local transport network the BVG, and one detail was not lost on the many people who are calling for more video surveillance in Germany: as BVG spokeswoman Petra Reetz confirmed to DW, if the attack had happened a few meters further away, on the steps leading down to the mezzanine platform, it would not have been caught on camera.”

The Berlin Christmas market attack and the “train kicker” incident will both figure greatly into the debate over increased security camera presence in Germany in the coming years. The debate centers around such issues as whether the possible increase in safety warrants such invasions into privacy and the state’s monitoring of the daily comings and goings of its citizens. According to Deutsche Welle, in an ARD survey conducted in January of 2016, 82 percent of Germans favored an increase in public area video surveillance. ARD is an organization composed of regional public broadcasters in Germany. A YouGov survey, however, concluded that only 52 percent of German citizens believe the presence of security cameras will make them any safer.

The tragic attack on the Berlin Christmas market is sure to have a profound impact on Germany, Europe, and the world. Already, rifts are being intensified between politicians on the right and left centering around longstanding differences involving approaches to refugees and reactions to terrorism. The debate involving calls for greater surveillance as a measure to both safeguard against such violence and assist in investigations into violence that has occurred is perhaps less intense but growingly relevant as we further become a world in which every step of every person can realistically be recorded and monitored by watchers working for its public institutions. Whether such surveillance would even serve to prevent tragedies like the attack on the Berlin Christmas market remains unclear but will be the topic of much debate moving forward.

Investigation in Berlin Christmas Market attack
Security camera footage could provide assist authorities investigating attacks like the one at a Christmas market in Berlin, but it is unclear if such surveillance would help prevent future attacks. [Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

[Featured Image by Sean Gallup/Getty Images]