Two men and a woman died in the attack on central Vienna on Monday night that the Austrian interior minister blamed on an Islamic State sympathizer, the only known attacker who was shot dead by police, Vienna’s police chief told a news conference on Tuesday.
At least one more suspect is still at large.
Witnesses described the men firing into crowds in bars with automatic rifles, as many people took advantage of the last evening before a nationwide curfew was introduced because of COVID-19. Police shot and killed one assailant. Fifteen people, including one police officer, were wounded.
Police sealed off much of the historic center of Vienna, urging the public to shelter in place. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport throughout the old town was shut down and police scoured the city. Police urged social media users not to post videos of the ongoing police operation, so as not to endanger officers.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer described the assailant killed by police in an attack in central Vienna on Monday as an “Islamist terrorist”. “We experienced an attack yesterday evening from at least one Islamist terrorist,” he told a news conference, calling the man an Islamic State sympathizer.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the “repulsive” act was “definitely a terror attack”, but he could not say what the motive was. Although the motive was under investigation, Kurz said the possibility that it was an antisemitic attack cannot be ruled out, given that the shooting began outside Vienna’s main synagogue. The synagogue was closed at the time.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna, said that it was not clear whether the house of worship had been targeted.
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister told London’s LBC radio he was living in the compound of the synagogue, and said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street below his window. “They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Hofmeister said.
Border checks were being reinforced, the Interior Ministry said, and children would not be required to attend school on Tuesday. Although people were urged to stay indoors Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig told broadcaster ORF the city would run normally on Tuesday, albeit with a tougher police presence.
“According to what we currently know, at least one perpetrator is still on the run,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.
“We have brought several special forces units together that are now searching for the presumed terrorists. I am therefore not limiting it to an area of Vienna, because these are mobile perpetrators,” Nehammer earlier told ORF.
Kurz said the army would protect sites in the capital so the police could focus on anti-terror operations. Speaking to ORF, he said the attackers “were very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally”.
Unverified footage posted on social media showed a gunman running down a cobblestone street shooting and shouting. Another showed a man gunning down a person outside what appeared to be a bar on the street housing the synagogue.
Kurz praised police for killing one of the attackers and vowed: “We will not never allow ourselves to be intimidated by terrorism and will fight these attacks with all means.”
Condolences poured in from around the world, with top officials from the European Union, France, Norway, Greece and the United States expressing their shock at the attacks.
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,” he said. “Our enemies must know with whom they are dealing. We will not retreat.”
France has endured three attacks blamed on Muslim extremists in recent weeks: one by a Pakistani refugee that wounded two people outside satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s old 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. France has gone on maximum security alert. Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools, and ministers have warned that other Islamist militant attacks could take place.
All of the attacks were strongly condemned at the time by Kurz.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin commented on the attack, tweeting “Our thoughts and prayers are with our friends in Austria as we follow worriedly reports of the horrific terror attack in Vienna.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned what he called a “horrific terrorist attack,” adding, “We must all stand united against hate and violence.”
Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said Americans were praying for the people of Vienna.
“There is no justification for hatred and violence like this. We stand with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorism,” O’Brien said.
Austria’s capital had so far been spared the kind of deadly militant attacks that have struck Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels, among others, in recent years.
“It is the hardest day for Austria in many years. We are dealing with a terror attack the severity of which, thank God, we have not experienced in Austria in many years,” Nehammer told a news conference.
In 1981, two people were killed and 18 injured during an attack by two Palestinians at the same synagogue. In 1985, a Palestinian extremist group attacked Vienna airport with hand grenades and attack rifles, killing three civilians.
In August, authorities arrested a 31-year-old Syrian refugee suspected of trying to attack a Jewish community leader in the country’s second city Graz. The leader was unhurt.
Header: After a shooting armed police officers patrol on a street at the scene in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 3, 2020 (Ronald Zak/AP)