Man wrongly arrested over Berlin attack says he fears for his life


Exclusive: Naveed Baloch says he was tied up, blindfolded and slapped by police after being held ‘because he ran across road’


Naveed Baloch was crossing a road in central Berlin on the evening of 19 December, having just left a friend’s house. He was halfway over it when, seeing a car heading towards him, he increased his speed. “I then realised it was a police car. I stopped when they beckoned to me, and showed them all the ID I had on me.”


They let him go but within seconds had called him back. Before he knew it he was in the back of the car, its lights flashing as it sped through Berlin. His hands were bound behind his back. Later that night, he said, he was blindfolded and taken from “one police station to another place” about 10 minutes away. He recalls two police officers “digging the heels of their shoes into my feet”, and one of the men “putting great pressure on my neck with his hand”.


Doubts raised over whether detained man was truck driver who killed 12 people and injured 48 at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz


They undressed him and took photographs. “When I resisted, they started slapping me.” They took three samples of his blood. A 24-year-old Pakistani identified only as Naveed B was named by German police and the interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, just hours after the deadly attack on a Christmas market on Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz, as their prime suspect.


Speaking exclusively to the Guardian just over a week after being wrongly arrested for the attack which killed 12 and injured 48 others, Baloch is now in hiding, fearful for his life and no longer feeling safe in the country in which he sought refuge as a member of a secular separatist movement in Balochistan, a province that is a frequent target of religious extremists in Pakistan.


Members of his family in Pakistan have been contacted by the security services and have been receiving threatening phone calls following the widespread distribution of his photograph and name. “My family and I agree we would be safer if we speak out, and the sooner the better,” he said.


On the night he was arrested police brought in a translator who did not speak his native Balochi, but Punjabi and Urdu (the latter he understands a bit though cannot speak it much). Baloch said he was asked whether he knew what had happened in Berlin earlier that evening. “I said I didn’t know, and they told me: ‘Someone took a vehicle and drove it into a crowd killing many people. And you were behind the wheel of that truck, weren’t you?’


“I calmly told them I cannot drive at all. Neither can I even start a vehicle. I told them there’s death and war in my country; that’s why I ran away to seek help. You in Germany are providing us with food, medicine and safety. You are like my mother. If you find I was doing these things to your country, you should not give me an easy death, you should cut me up slowly.”


He said he could only assume they understood his answers, though he could not be sure because communication was very awkward.


On being questioned further he told them he was a shepherd by profession, that he had arrived from his Balochistan in February this year, and that he was a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day. They balked at his concern over a looming deadline to pay a fine he owed for fare-dodging on Berlin’s transport network days before. “They said to me: ‘You’re worried about paying a fine, when many people have been murdered?’ I told them I just didn’t want to get into trouble.”


Over two days and one night, he said, they only gave him tea and biscuits. “But I could not eat. The biscuits were disgusting, and the tea was cold.” He slept on a wooden bed without a mattress, his hands bound behind his back on the first night. Having told him already on the night of the attack that they had doubts he was the man they were looking for – not least because there were no traces of blood or injuries on him, despite the bloody struggle that had evidently taken place between the driver and the Polish man from whom the truck had been hijacked – they told him he was free to go. “They explained to me that because I had run across the road when they picked me up, they had reason to believe I might be a criminal. I told them I understood.”


By the time Baloch had been told he was off the hook, the police were already looking for Anis Amri, a Tunisian whose documents had been found in the footwell of the Scania truck that had ploughed into the market and who was later shot dead by police officers in Milan. Like Baloch, Amri was 24 and dark-skinned, but there the similarities ended.