5 dead, including one gunman, in Vienna terror attack, authorities say
A 20-year-old Islamic extremist armed with an automatic rifle and a fake explosive vest rampaged through a crowded Vienna nightlife district hours ahead of a coronavirus lockdown, leaving four people dead before being killed by police, Austrian authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect in Monday night’s attack was identified as a young Austrian North Macedonian dual citizen with a previous terrorism-related conviction for attempting to join the Islamic State extremist group in Syria.
Unverified video showed the gunman, dressed in white coveralls, firing off bursts apparently at random as he ran down the Austrian capital’s cobblestone streets.
Police searched 18 properties as well as the suspect’s apartment, and have detained 14 people associated with the suspect, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.
Two men and two women died from their injuries in the attack, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. Authorities said a police officer who tried to get in the way of the attacker was shot and wounded, and an additional 21 people were hurt.
Vienna’s hospital service said seven people were in life-threatening condition Tuesday after the attack, APA reported.
“Yesterday’s attack was clearly an Islamist terror attack,” Kurz said. “It was an attack out of hatred — hatred for our fundamental values, hatred for our way of life, hatred for our democracy in which all people have equal rights and dignity.”
French anti-terrorism prosecutors are investigating a fatal knife attack at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
The attacker, identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 because he had tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State. He was granted early release in December under juvenile law.
Nehammer told APA that Fejzulai had posted a photo on his Instagram account before the attack that showed him with two of the weapons he apparently used.
Nehammer said Fejzulai “was equipped with a fake explosive vest and and an automatic rifle, a handgun and a machete to carry out this repugnant attack on innocent citizens.”
Authorities worked well into Tuesday to determine whether there were any other attackers. People in Vienna have been urged to stay at home Tuesday if possible, and children were excused from school. About 1,000 police officers were on duty in Vienna on Tuesday morning.
By mid-afternoon, investigators working through copious video evidence had found “no indication of a second perpetrator,” Nehammer said. “But because the evaluation is not yet concluded, we cannot yet say conclusively how many perpetrators are responsible for the crime.”
For the time being, an elevated security level will remain in place in Vienna along with a reinforced police presence, he said.
Fejzulai’s lawyer in the 2019 case, Nikolaus Rast, told public broadcaster ORF that his client had seemed “completely harmless” at the time.
“He was a young man who was searching for his place in society, who apparently went to the wrong mosque, ended up in the wrong circles,” Rast said. “I can’t say exactly what happened.”
Fejzulai’s family “wasn’t strictly religious at all. The family wasn’t radical — it was a completely normal family,” Rast said. “I still remember that the family couldn’t believe what had happened with their son.”
Police said that several shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m. Monday on a lively street in the city center and that there were six shooting locations.
Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl said the attacker was killed by police at 8:09 p.m.
The motive for the attack is under investigation, but Kurz said the possibility that it was an anti-Semitic attack cannot be ruled out, given that the shooting began outside Vienna’s main synagogue. It was closed at the time.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna, said it was not clear whether the main synagogue had been targeted.
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside bars in the street below his window.
“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Hofmeister said.
“All these bars have tables outside. This evening is the last evening before the lockdown,” he added. “As of midnight, all bars and restaurants will be closed in Austria for the next month, and a lot of people probably wanted to use that evening to be able to go out.”
The Austrian government Tuesday ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff until Thursday.
A minute of silence was held at midday Tuesday, accompanied by the tolling of bells in the capital. Kurz, President Alexander Van der Bellen and other leading politicians laid wreaths and candles where the attack took place.
Alois Schroll, an Austrian lawmaker and the mayor of the town of Ybbs, said he had just arrived at a nearby restaurant when the attack started. He said he “saw many, many people running with their hands up high. They were in a panic and screaming.”
Police “sealed off the entire restaurant,” Schroll, 52, told the Associated Press. “People inside the restaurant were in shock. There were several women who were crying. And it wasn’t until shortly before 1 a.m. that police finally let us out.”
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the French “share the shock and grief of the Austrian people hit by an attack tonight.”
“After France, this is a friendly country that has been attacked. This is our Europe. ... We will not give in,” he wrote.
France has endured three attacks blamed on Muslim extremists in recent weeks: the wounding of two people outside satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s former headquarters; the beheading of a schoolteacher who showed students caricatures of the prophet Muhammad; and a deadly knife attack Thursday in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
All attacks were strongly condemned by Austrian Chancellor Kurz at the time.
President Trump tweeted Monday night as he prepared for his final rally ahead of election day: “Our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.
“These evil attacks against innocent people must stop,” Trump added. “The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.”
Austria’s military has provided soldiers to guard key sites in Vienna, freeing up police to continue the investigation. Germany and Hungary have offered to send tactical police units to support their Austrian counterparts.
Authorities say members of the public have uploaded 20,000 videos of the attack to police.
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