Armed males kill two in a “terrorist assault” in Vienna, search began
© Reuters. Press conference in the Ministry of the Interior after an exchange of fire in Vienna
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) – Armed men attacked six places in Vienna’s inner city on Monday in front of the main synagogue, killing two people and injuring at least 14 in a so-called “repulsive terrorist attack” in Austria while chasing one or more attackers at large.
Witnesses reported that the men were shooting at crowds with automatic rifles in bars as many people took advantage of the last evening before a nationwide curfew was imposed over COVID-19. The police shot an attacker.
The police cordoned off a large part of the historic center of Vienna and asked the public to seek refuge. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels while public transport across the old town was closed and police raided the city.
“It is the hardest day for Austria in many years. We are dealing with a terrorist attack, the severity of which, thank God, we have not seen in Austria for many years,” said Interior Minister Karl Nehammer at a press conference.
Austria’s capital has so far been spared deadly militant attacks that have hit Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels in recent years. Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the “repulsive” act was “definitely a terrorist attack”, but he could not say what the motive was.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna, who has offices next to the synagogue on a narrow cobblestone street littered with bars, said on Twitter https://twitter.com/DeutschOskar/status/1323409412812398592?s=20 that it wasn’t it is clear whether the temple or offices were targeted, but that they were closed at the time.
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister told LBC London radio that he lived on the synagogue grounds. “When we heard gunshots, we looked down from the windows and saw the armed men shooting at the guests in the various bars and pubs,” he said.
“The armed men ran around and shot at least 100 rounds or more in front of our building,” he said.
Border controls have been tightened, the Home Office said, and children won’t have to go to school on Tuesday. Although people were asked to stay inside, Vienna’s Mayor Michael Ludwig told ORF that the city would run normally on Tuesday, albeit with a tougher police presence.
“From what we currently know, at least one perpetrator is still on the run,” said Nehammer.
“We have brought together several special forces that are now looking for suspected terrorists. I am therefore not restricting myself to one area in Vienna, as they are mobile perpetrators,” Nehammer previously told ORF.
Kurz said the army would protect locations in the capital so police could focus on counter-terrorism operations. In an interview with ORF, he said that the attackers were “very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally”.
Videos were shared on social media of an armed man running down a cobblestone street yelling and yelling. One showed a man who shot a person outside a bar on the street where the synagogue was located. Reuters was unable to review the videos immediately.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has witnessed two fatal knife attacks in Paris and Nice in the past few weeks, issued a statement expressing shock and sadness.
“This is our Europe,” he said. “Our enemies need to know who they are dealing with. We will not withdraw.”
French officials have increased security since the attacks in Paris and Nice, which were suspected of being Islamist. Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools, and ministers have warned that other militant Islamist attacks could take place.
In 1981, two Palestinians attacked the same synagogue in Vienna and two people were killed and 18 injured. In 1985, a Palestinian extremist group killed three civilians in an attack on the airport.
Nehammer will hold a press conference on the situation on Tuesday at 6 a.m. (0500 GMT).