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Merkel to meet bereaved a year after Christmas market attack

By AFP | Published Mon, December 18th 2017 at 13:08, Updated December 18th 2017 at 13:12 GMT +3
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel. [Photo: Courtesy]

Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel is scheduled to meet with the 12 families of victims who were killed by an Islamic jihadist, a year after a truck ploughed into a Christmas market crowd.

The private gathering on the eve of the anniversary of the atrocity, comes against the backdrop of angry reproaches by many of the bereaved, who say official incompetence and neglect since the assault has inflicted fresh wounds.

The victims came from Germany as well as countries including Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Ukraine.

More than 70 people were injured in the attack, the deadliest ever carried out in Germany.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility the next day, and Amri was shot and killed four days later by police in Italy, where he had previously lived.

Although Merkel has visited the scene of the attack at least four times, including once to the reopened Christmas market last week, it will be her first face-to-face talks with relatives of the victims, some of whom have accused her of ignoring their needs and concerns.

In a wrenching open letter to the chancellor this month before the meeting was announced, several family members condemned her "political inaction" and accused her of failing to reach out to them.

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"Almost a year after the attack, we note that you have not shared your condolences with us either in person or in writing," the letter said.

"In our opinion, this means that you are not living up to the responsibilities of your office."

Autopsy bills

A government commissioned report released last week identified a litany of shortcomings in the response to the tragedy.

Some relatives desperately searching for their loved ones were told only three days after the attack that a family member had perished, even though they could have been given early warning through facial identification.

Others were sent "bills for autopsies, including warnings for late payment. “I didn't want to believe it, but I had such a letter in hand," said the author of the report, Kurt Beck.

"Such experiences should never be repeated," he said, adding that Germany "was not prepared" to deal with the attack's aftermath.

The government has paid out 1.6 million euros ($1.9 million) in compensation to the wounded and victims' families.

 

Justice Minister Heiko Maas pledged that Berlin would take action "to ensure that when something so terrible happens that the relatives of victims are taken care of as well as possible."

"We have learned from our mistakes," he said.

Another factor keeping the wounds raw has been steady leaks in the press about administrative gaffes and missteps leading up to the attack.

Amri, who arrived in Germany in the summer of 2015, at the height of the refugee influx, registered under several different identities. Media reports citing the investigation have said that he plotted the attack from the start.

Authorities knew him to be an Islamist extremist and drug dealer whose asylum claim had been rejected and who was being intermittently monitored by police.

But Amri was never deported nor arrested.


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