BERLIN (AP) — As survivors and dignitaries marked the anniversary of last year's truck rampage at a Berlin Christmas market, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged Tuesday to help those injured or who had lost loved ones and improve the way authorities respond to such attacks.
Merkel was fiercely criticized by relatives in an open letter earlier this month, both for the way security services failed to stop the attack and the authorities' handling of the aftermath.
In a brief statement following an interreligious memorial service at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the heart of west Berlin, Merkel said she met with relatives and some of the dozens injured Monday to hear their views.
"It was a very open and, on the part of the people affected, very blunt conversation which showed the weaknesses our state displayed in this situation," Merkel said.
"We will do what's humanly possible not just to ensure security but to help give those whose life was destroyed or affected the opportunity to return to their life," she said. "Today is a day of grief, but also a day of willingness to do better."
Germany's justice minister went further in acknowledging that painful errors had been made.
"We weren't properly prepared for the consequences that such a terrorist attack would have for those who were affected," Heiko Maas wrote in an op-ed for Berlin daily Tagesspiegel. "For this we can only apologize to the victims and the survivors," he said, adding that the government owed it to the relatives to learn from its mistakes.
The attack, carried out by a Tunisian asylum-seeker and petty criminal who had been on authorities' radar for months, was the deadliest in decades on German soil.
The perpetrator, Anis Amri, managed to flee the country but was shot and killed by Italian police days after the attack, which was later claimed by the Islamic State group.
Italian authorities are still investigating whether Amri had contacts in the country who helped him.
Following the service, Berlin's mayor Michael Mueller unveiled a memorial on the Breitscheidplatz featuring the names of those killed on Dec. 19, 2016. The memorial includes an almost 17-meter gash in the ground that was filled with a gold-colored metal, symbolizing the lives torn apart in the attack.
Relatives and dignitaries, including Merkel, placed candles and white roses beside the memorial. Church bells were due to ring at 8.02 p.m. (1902 GMT) for twelve minutes — one minute for each of the dead.
Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, contributed to this report.