Death toll rises in Vienna ‘terrorist’ attack, city sealed off as police launch extensive manhunt

Policemen secure the area around wreathes placed at a crime scene before the arrival of the Austrian chancellor who will pay his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna on November 3, 2020, one day after the shooting at multiple locations across central Vienna.
Policemen secure the area around wreathes placed at a crime scene before the arrival of the Austrian chancellor who will pay his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna on November 3, 2020, one day after the shooting at multiple locations across central Vienna. AFP - JOE KLAMAR

Austrian police raided 18 locations and have arrested 14 people linked to Monday's deadly attack in Vienna that killed at least four civilians and injured 24 others. One assailant was shot and killed by police, but there is no evidence that a second shooter was involved, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday.

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Nehammer said two men and two women died from the injuries they sustained in the attack that started shortly after 8pm local time on Monday near Vienna’s main synagogue as locals were enjoying a last night out before a month-long coronavirus lockdown

At least 24 people were also taken to hospital for their injuries, three of whom are in life-threatening condition, Vienna’s hospital service said.

The Interior Minister said that initial investigations indicate the suspect who was killed had sympathised with the Islamic State (IS) group.

“We experienced an attack yesterday evening from at least one Islamist terrorist,” he told a televised news conference. "This is a radicalised person who felt close to IS."

He also said that the suspect has been identified and was a 20-year-old dual citizen of Austria and North Macedonia. In April 2019, he was sentenced to 22 months in prison for attempting to travel to Syria to join the IS group, but was released early in December.

"The perpetrator managed to fool the de-radicalisation programme of the justice system, to fool the people in it, and to get an early release through this," the minister said.

According to Nehammer, the suspect had posted a photo on his Instagram account before the attack, showing himself with two weapons that he was believed to have used. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Nehammer said footage of the incident filmed on mobile phones showed no evidence of a second gunman, although the possibility had not been completely ruled out.

He revealed that police had conducted 18 raids in Vienna and Lower Austria and 14 people had been detained.

Authorities had previously said they could not rule out the possibility that other shooters were still on the loose and asked people to avoid the centre of Vienna, which was largely deserted on Tuesday with most shops closed.

Some 1,000 police officers have been deployed in the manhunt, and helicopters were seen flying overhead as the city was sealed off. Neighbouring countries have stepped up border checks.

Among those wounded in the attack was a police officer, said Nehammer. The 28-year-old officer was in the hospital but was no longer in a life-threatening condition.

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Shooting people at random

Describing the assault as a terrorist attack, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a televised address: "This is not a conflict between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants. No, this is a fight between the many people who believe in peace and the few (who oppose it). It is a fight between civilisation and barbarism."

The Chancellor pledged to “hunt down the perpetrators and those who stand behind them”.

Unverified footage posted on social media showed a gunman walking through the streets, apparently shooting at people at random, wounding several. It was unclear whether the person seen shooting was the same individual in each video.

Reporting from Vienna, FRANCE 24’s correspondent Anthony Mills said that although authorities have now identified the killed suspect, there are still many questions that remain unanswered, including the number of people involved in the attack and what the specific targets were.

“What we don’t know is what the initial, exact target was. We don’t know if the gunman went into the street in which the synagogue is located with the aim of attacking the synagogue – whether it was symbolic or whether the location was chosen simply because it’s a high density area right in the centre of Vienna in the old district, densely packed with cafés, restaurants, which of course were full in advance of a midnight lockdown.”

“We don’t know if there are additional gunmen, or gunman, at large,” he added.

Thousands of videos sent to the police

Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street below his window near the city’s main synagogue.

“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.” 

Authorities said residents have uploaded 20,000 videos of the attack to police.

The attack drew swift condemnation and assurances of support from leaders around Europe, including from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has experienced three Islamist attacks in recent weeks, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The Islamist terror is our common enemy,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted. “The battle against these murderers and their instigators is our common fight.”

Austria’s military has provided 75 soldiers to guard key sites in Vienna, freeing up police to continue the investigation. Germany and Hungary have also offered to send tactical police units to support their Austrian colleagues.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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