Four people were killed in an attack in Vienna, Austria late on Monday, in what the country’s Chancellor called a “repulsive terrorist attack”.
A suspect was also shot dead by police, in an attack that came as residents enjoyed the final night out before the city enters a partial coronavirus lockdown.
At least 17 people were injured in the incident, and speaking on Tuesday, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that the victims would be commemorated at midday, while the country’s national security council was being convened to discuss what should happen next.
He added that the fact that the attacks were carried out by Islamists did not mean that Austrians “should condemn all members of a religion”.
“It is a fight between the people who believe in peace and the terrorists,” he said at a news conference.
He said it was clearly an “Islamist” attack and said that the attackers were motivated by hatred of Austrian democracy and its way of life.
Two men and two women died from their injuries after the attack in the centre of the Austrian capital, which took place hours before a coronavirus lockdown started.
The victims were “an elderly man an elderly woman, a young male passerby and a waitress”, according to Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. He praised as “brave” a police officer who was shot in the attack, who remains in a critical but stable condition.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted “But we must always be aware that this is not a dispute between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants. This is a struggle between the many people who believe in peace and the few who want war.”
Aber es muss uns stets bewusst sein, dass dies keine Auseinandersetzung zwischen Christen und Muslimen oder zwischen Österreichern und Migranten ist. Dies ist ein Kampf zwischen den vielen Menschen, die an den Frieden glauben, und jenen wenigen, die sich den Krieg wünschen.— Sebastian Kurz (@sebastiankurz) November 3, 2020
The attacker, named as Kujtim Fejzulai, was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 because he had tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group.
The interior minister, Karl Nehammer, said the suspect, who was shot dead by police nine minutes into the attack, was a 20-year-old man of North Macedonian origin who had been convicted last year for membership of Isis after being arrested on his way to Syria to join the group. The man, who also possessed an Austrian passport, was released early from a 22-month prison sentence in December.
Nehammer said he had been armed with an automatic rifle and a handgun, as well as a machete, and that he had been wearing a fake suicide vest.
The attack has echoes of those in London in 2017 and Paris in 2015 when attackers roamed the streets of the two cities armed with knives and guns, killing maiming civilians in restaurants and bars.
Arrests have been made.
Investigators have searched the home of the dead suspect, whom Karl Nehammer described as a sympathizer of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Fifteen house searches have taken place and several people have been arrested, Nehammer added.
Austrian police have made several arrests at addresses linked to the Islamic State sympathiser.
The shooting began at 8pm on Monday evening near Vienna’s main synagogue, as many people were enjoying a last night of open restaurants and bars before a month-long coronavirus lockdown, which started at midnight.
Earlier, Nehammer said in an interview with public broadcaster ORF that several heavily armed perpetrators were still active in the city center.
“We continue to be in the midst of a fight against suspected terrorists,” Nehammer said, adding: “We are assuming several perpetrators, heavily armed and dangerous.”
Kurz also said the government had decided to hand over protection efforts to the army so “the police can concentrate on the fight against terrorism.”
Mayor Michael Ludwig said seven of those in hospital were seriously injured.
The head of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Oskar Deutsch, said it was unclear if the synagogue was the target as the temple and its offices were closed at the time of the shooting. Nevertheless, he said all community members were advised to remain indoors until getting the all-clear from authorities. Deutsch said all synagogues, Jewish schools and community institutions, kosher restaurants and supermarkets will be closed Tuesday as a precaution.
Viennese police on Twitter warned locals to stay away from public places and public transport.
Monday was the last night before Austria’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown began, and some people had taken their final opportunity to go out to restaurants, bars and other venues, with the area where the shootings were carried out known for its nightlife. Many people were trapped inside venues in the city center.
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is still reeling after recent deadly attacks at a church and against a teacher, tweeted in German that “We, French people, share in the shock and sorrow of Austrians after an attack in Vienna. After France, another friendly country has been attacked. This is our Europe. Our enemies must know who they are dealing with. We will not give up.”