Viennese shooter raged alone, secret service was fumbled: Austrian minister

© Reuters. Location of an arms attack in Vienna

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA (Reuters) – Large amounts of cell phone footage have confirmed that the jihadist, who killed four people in a rampage in Vienna on Monday, was the only shooter, but Austria fumbled information about him on Wednesday, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said .

Austria arrested 14 people between the ages of 18 and 28 in connection with the attack on Tuesday and is investigating them on suspicion of belonging to a terrorist group. But it would also need to examine its own actions, he added.

“According to the information currently available, some things went wrong before the terrorist attack began,” said Nehammer at a press conference.

In July, the neighboring Slovak intelligence agency had released information suggesting the attacker tried and did not buy ammunition there, said Nehammer and a senior ministerial official, Public Security Director General Franz Ruf.

“In the next steps something has obviously gone wrong with communication,” said Nehammer, who called for the formation of an independent commission to investigate the mistakes made.

After receiving the information from Slovakia, the Austrian secret services carried out the necessary controls at federal and state level and returned questions to Bratislava, said Ruf.

“It is up to the Commission to see if the process went optimally and in accordance with the law,” he said as he pressed on what had gone wrong.

The shooter, who was shot dead by the police in overcrowded bars on Monday evening within minutes of opening fire, was 20 years old and had dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship. He was born in Vienna and grew up there. He had already been convicted of reaching Syria to join the Islamic State and had spent some time in prison.

All those arrested in Austria have a “migration background,” said Nehammer. The Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl added that some are dual citizens of Bangladesh, North Macedonia, Turkey or Russia.

Neutral Austria, part of the US-led Global Coalition to Combat ISIS, which was founded in 2014, has viewed jihadist attacks as the greatest security threat for years and warns of the danger posed by foreign fighters returning from Iraq or Syria or their admirers .

At the end of 2018, the authorities knew 320 people from Austria who were actively involved or wanted to take part in jihad in Syria and Iraq. Of these, around 58 people are said to have died in the region and 93 returned to Austria. Another 62 were prevented from leaving the country.

Repeating criticism of a deradicalization program, Nehammer said the shooter “perfectly” misled the program to reintegrate jihadists into society.

LONE GUNMAN

Members of the public had submitted more than 20,000 cell phone videos that were analyzed by authorities before concluding that there was only one shooter, Nehammer said, ending the ongoing confusion on the issue.

Switzerland also arrested two men in connection with the attack. His attorney general said the two were “obviously friends with the shooter”.

Ruf said Austria was in contact with Switzerland and another country that he did not want to identify as part of the investigation.

North Macedonia said Tuesday three people were somehow involved in the attack and all of them have dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship. It only identified them by initials.

Monday’s attack drew international expressions of support for Austria, which had been spared the deadly militant attacks that hit other European countries over the past decade.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently suffered two fatal attacks because the Islamist was angry about the publication of satirical caricatures of the prophet Mohammad, will visit Vienna next Monday, the office of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

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