Two men and two women 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.
The dead attacker was a 20-year-old Austrian-North Macedonian dual national who had a previous terror conviction. According to Austrian interior minister Karl Nehammer, he was neutralised within nine minutes.
Initial reports alleged there had been one more attacker, but Nehammer said on Tuesday that video evidence showed no indication of a second assailant. He said that 14 arrests had been made, after police carried out 18 raids, following an initial raid on the attacker's home.
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. Twenty-two people were injured, according to an updated toll released by the Interior Ministry, with gunshot wounds but also cuts. Seven of them were in life-threatening condition Tuesday after the attack, according to the Austrian news agency APA.
Law enforcement 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.
- The Only Way Europe Can Defeat Violent Islamic Extremism
- France Warns Citizens to Be Cautious as Anger Seethes in Muslim World Over Cartoons
- Anti-France Protests Continue, as Macron Seeks Understanding
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.
Nehammer later told APA that the dead assailant, who had roots in the Balkan nation of North Macedonia, had a previous conviction under a law that punishes membership in terrorist organizations. He had been handed a 22-month sentence but was released on parole in early December.
The gunman, 20, was born and raised in Vienna and was known to domestic intelligence because he was one of 90 Austrian Islamists who wanted to travel to Syria, a newspaper editor said on Tuesday.
Kurtin S. had "Albanian roots" but his parents were originally from North Macedonia, the editor of the weekly Falter newspaper Florian Klenk said on Twitter, without giving details of the source for that information. Police thought he was not capable of planning an attack in Vienna, Klenk added. On Tuesday, Nehammer said he had "fooled" the country's de-radicalization program.
Fifteen house searches have taken place and several people have been arrested, he added. The attacker, he said, "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 were still trying to determine whether further attackers may be on the run. Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig told broadcaster ORF the city would run normally on Tuesday, but people in Vienna were urged to stay at home if possible, and children did not have to go to school. Border checks were being reinforced, the Interior Ministry said, while some 1,000 police officers were on duty in Vienna on Tuesday morning.
The country declared a state of mourning, which will last until Thursday. 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.
"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." Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said on Twitter that Israel stood in total solidarity with Austria."
"Civilized peoples everywhere must unite to defeat the savagery of resurgent Islamist terrorism," he added.
U.S. President Donald 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.”
His Democratic party opponent Joe Biden condemned what he called a "horrific terrorist attack," adding, "We must all stand united against hate and violence."
Other leaders around the world condemned the attack, including Russia's Vladimir Putin and Indian leader Narendra Modi.
Al-Azhar, Egypt's top religious institution, urged the international community to stand in solidarity in the face of terrorism and called for "everyone to come together to spread peace across the world and refute violence and hatred."
Iran also joined the worlwide outrage. "This attack has showed again that terrorism and extremism know no bounds and are to be condemned, for whatever reason," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said in comments carried by news agency ISNA.
An end to Islamophobia in the West could also bring an end to terror, he added.
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.