Naveed Baloch, a 23-old separatist activist, fled torture and persecution in Pakistan.
But nearly a year after undertaking the arduous 6,000-kilometer journey to claim asylum in Germany, Baloch was briefly arrested in connection with the December 19 attack in Berlin.
Some 12 people were killed and another 50 were wounded when a man drove a truck through crowds of shoppers at Berlin’s Breitscheidplatz Christmas market.
His case illuminates the challenges faced by some of the nearly 1 million refugees and migrants in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. While most of them have fled wars and persecution in their predominately Muslim home countries, some are now at the receiving end of anger and resentment against Islamic extremists who have carried out terrorist attacks in France and Belgium.
Wajid Baloch, a friend of Baloch’s but no relation, told RFE/RL’s Gandhara website he was unable to reach Naveed despite the German authorities saying they released him due to a lack of evidence late on December 20.
The two friends share the same last name, which denotes their affinity to the Baluch ethnic group whose homeland in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Balochistan has been reeling from separatist and sectarian violence since 2004.
“We fled to Germany to escape persecution in Pakistan, but such incidents [arrest] upset us,” he said. “We are victims of a similar kind of religious extremism in Balochistan, and we have deep sympathies for the German people.”
Wajid said Naveed arrived in Germany in February where his asylum application is being processed. He added his friend fled Pakistan after security forces raided his family home in Mand, a remote town in Kech district near Balochistan’s eastern border with Iran.
Naveed’s cousin Waheed Baloch, also an asylum seeker in Berlin, told the BBC Urdu Service that Pakistani forces tortured Naveed during his detention last year.
It was not possible to independently verify claims that Naveed was mistreated in Pakistan.
Another male relative of Naveed’s in Mand, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Gandhara they were shocked by the news of his arrest.
"It was unbelievable to hear about Naveed's alleged involvement in an act of terror act because he believes in civil liberties and human rights,” he said.
Sources close to Naveed’s family in Pakistan said he was a member of the secular separatist Baloch National Movement -- a political faction allied with the Baloch Liberation Front guerilla group.
Wajid said Naveed is among hundreds of young Baluch activists who have fled Pakistani persecution and are now seeking asylum in various European countries.
“Political activists in Balochistan face enforced disappearances while the corpses of some victims of enforced disappearances have been found in recent years,” he said. “In the coastal Makran region [comprising Kech and several other Balochistan districts], the operations intensified after the CPEC [Pakistan-China-Economic Corridor] was unveiled [in 2014].”
Islamabad, however, rejects such claims and often accuses its regional archrival India of fomenting the unrest in Balochistan. Pakistani officials say the billions of dollars in Chinese investment will transform Balochistan’s Gwadar port into a hub of regional trade and transport.
Thousands of civilians, guerrilla fighters, political activists and soldiers have died in nearly 12 years of a simmering separatist insurgency in Balochistan. Harsh Pakistani crackdowns have attempted to quash nearly a dozen separatist guerilla factions and political parties.
The region has endured sectarian violence in which Sunni extremist groups have targeted the tiny Shi’ite Hazara minority.
This year, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for several large attacks in Balochistan that targeted the police, lawyers, and a Sufi shrine.
Kiyya Baloch is a freelance journalist who reports on the insurgency, militancy, and sectarian violence in Balochistan.