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Trump cites holy war in Berlin attack even while facts remain unknown

Candles and flowers are placed at a makeshift memorial in Berlin at the site of a suspected terrorist attack at a Christmas market. (John MacDougall/AFP via Getty Images)
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Uncertainty shrouded Berlin's tragic crime scene when President-elect Donald Trump, sitting thousands of miles away in New York, issued a clarion call on Monday evening: This was an Islamist attack on Christians. The Muslim terrorists “must be eradicated from the face of the earth.”

A truck had plowed into a crowd at a Christmas market in the German capital, killing at least 12 people and injuring dozens. On Tuesday morning, the identity and motives of the attacker remained unclear; a Pakistani asylum seeker taken into custody was released because of insufficient evidence, and authorities fear one or more suspects may still be at large. Officials are investigating the attack as a likely “act of terrorism.”

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The lack of information did not stop the U.S. president-elect from jumping to conclusions. Around the same time, Berlin's police department tweeted that folks should stay home and “not spread rumors.” Here's the Trump statement in full:

“Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today's horrifying terror attack in Berlin. Innocent civilians were murdered in the streets as they prepared to celebrate the Christmas holiday. ISIS and other Islamist terrorists continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad. These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”

Compare this with the far more circumspect statement from State Department spokesman John Kirby:

We are deeply saddened by today’s horrendous events at a Christmas market in Berlin. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family members of those killed, and we hope for a speedy recovery for the many injured.
The United States stands firmly with the German people during this time of national sadness, and we offer any support they may require.

Or the message issued from the White House's National Security Council:

The United States condemns in the strongest terms what appears to have been a terrorist attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany, which has killed and wounded dozens. We send our thoughts and prayers to the families and loved ones of those killed, just as we wish a speedy recovery to all of those wounded. We also extend our heartfelt condolences to the people and Government of Germany. We have been in touch with German officials, and we stand ready to provide assistance as they recover from and investigate this horrific incident. Germany is one of our closest partners and strongest allies, and we stand together with Berlin in the fight against all those who target our way of life and threaten our societies.

In his message, Trump does not even address Germany or its people: The theme that he and his coterie of advisers have banged the drum about for months is that of a war with a brand of Islam, writ large. On the campaign trail, Trump grandstanded about a clash of civilizations. He decried the liberal appeal to “universal” values and trumpeted America's “Judeo-Christian” traditions.

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Among Trump's supporters, as well as figures on the far right in Europe, this is precisely the language they want to hear. The enemy is radical Islam abroad and liberal political correctness at home. As investigations are underway in Germany, Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders tweeted a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel covered in blood.

The message was garishly clear: Merkel's policies on letting in refugees and asylum seekers have brought death and destruction to Europe's capitals. This fits perfectly with the far right's political messaging as a host of elections across the continent, including in Germany, loom in 2017.

But it also suits the purposes of Islamist extremists, who have made repeatedly clear that they seek a polarization within the West that leaves more and more Muslims feeling embittered and marginalized. Never mind that while Trump frets about “Christians” being killed, groups like the Islamic State have slaughtered many more Muslims.

As Trump invoked the war against radical Islam amid the fear in Berlin, he would probably find his echo among the constellation of Islamist militant mouthpieces online, eager to trumpet their success against the infidels. German authorities, though, have not yet seen any credible evidence linking the attack to the Islamic State.

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