The hero of Berlin: Lukasz Robert Urban

By Frederic Friedel

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He was Polish, 37 years old, lorry driver by profession. Three days ago (on December 19, 2016) Łukasz Urban was driving his Scania R 450 semi-trailer truck, transporting steel beams to a Berlin warehouse.

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At 2 p.m. he arrived at his destination in Berlin and went to a kebab shop near the warehouse for a quick snack. Above is the last picture we have of him. Between 3 and 4 p.m. he called his company to report that he needed to wait overnight to unload his truck. After that all contact was lost.

What we now know is that the truck was hijacked and driven into a popular Berlin Christmas market. The attack has killed twelve people and injured forty others. The truck left the main road adjacent to the market and plowed through the crowd gathered there on the festive Monday evening. It ran over pedestrians and destroyed stalls, before turning back onto the main road, where it came to a halt. There is harrowing dashcam footage of the speeding truck entering the market.

Several witnesses saw the driver emerge from the truck and run from the scene. One witness in fact followed him for a while, but then lost sight. Soon the police picked up a suspect, a 23-year-old Pakistani who was fleeing the scene. It turned out that this prime suspect (for two days) was not involved in the attack, he was simply afraid, he said, of being considered a suspect, because of his appearance.

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In the meantime the perpetrator has been identified, because, incredibly, he left his suspension-of-deportation papers under the driver’s seat (it was only found by the police the next day). He is a 23-year-old Tunesian jihadist and probable ISIS collaborator, Anis Amri, who came to Germany as a refugee in 2015 and was on the terrorist watch list. Currently there is a nation wide and in fact international hunt for this man, with a reward of 100,000 Euros for information leading to his capture.

There is one thing that struck me, something that is not being reported prominently in the news. The truck plowed 50 meters into the market (dark red line above), before veering off back onto the street. But it could have gone straight on (light red arrow), where the bulk of the people were, creating much greater carnage — as was the case in the Jihad attack in Nice, France. There the driver managed 1.7 kilometers before he was shot dead by the police. Result: 86 people killed, 434 injured. The Berlin market was far more densely packed, and although the length was much smaller, the casualty count could have easily equaled that of the Nice attack. Why didn’t it? The answer for me is quit clear: Łukasz Robert Urban.

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As I said above, the truck veered off the main road and into the market and then after 50 meters back onto the main road, although the driver could see hundreds of potential victims straight ahead of him. In the truck cab the police found Łukasz Urban dead — some reports say he was still alive and died before they could get him the necessary medical attention. He had stab wounds and had been shot in the head with a small-caliber firearm.

So it is clear what happened: Łukasz was alive in the truck when it circled the area once. He was probably held hostage by the man holding a gun. When the truck plowed into the Christmas market area he clearly interceded, probably grabbing the wheel and steering it to the left, into a stall and onto the road. That ended the carnage — but cost Łukasz his life. Amri probably stabbed him and then, before he got out of the truck cab to flee, shot him in the head.

So the hero of Berlin, the man who deserves our thanks and our praise, is Łukasz Urban. On this horrible Monday evening he saved the lives of scores of people, perhaps hundreds. We should not forget his heroic deed.

Addendum: It has just been reported (December 23, 2016) that in the early morning hours the police shot Anis Amri in a railway station near Milan, Italy. He drew a gun when they asked him for documents in a routine control. In Germany police investigation have revealed that Amri belonged to a Salafist network called “True Religion”, based around hate preacher (and recently-arrested) Abu Walaa, a known ISIS recruiter in Germany.

Written by

Frederic Alois Friedel, born in 1945, science journalist, co-founder of ChessBase, studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford.

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