Four people were killed and 17 others were wounded in a shooting in the heart of Vienna hours before a coronavirus lockdown started, Austrian authorities said Tuesday, as a manhunt was underway for any possible further attackers.
One assailant, shot dead by police, was a 20-year-old Austrian-North Macedonian dual national who had a previous terror conviction, said Interior Minister Karl Nehammer.
The minister said that initial investigations indicated the suspect who was killed had sympathized with the Islamic State group.
“We experienced an attack last night by at least one Islamist terrorist,” Nehammer told reporters.
“This is a radicalized person who felt close to IS,” the minister said, referring to the Islamic State terror group.
Nehammer later told the Austrian APA new agency that the dead assailant, who had roots in the Balkan nation of North Macedonia, had a previous conviction in under a law that punishes membership in terrorist organizations. He was convicted in April 2019 for trying to travel to Syria, Nehammer said.
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. People in Vienna were urged to stay at home if possible on Tuesday and children did not have to go to school. Some 1,000 police officers were on duty in Vienna on Tuesday morning.
Nehammer said two men and two women died from their injuries in the attack Monday evening.
Vienna’s hospital service said seven people were in life-threatening condition after the attack, APA reported. In total, 17 people were being treated in hospitals, with gunshot wounds but also cuts.
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.
The shooting began shortly after 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) Monday 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.
Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl said the attacker was killed at 8:09 p.m.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “we are victims of a despicable terror attack in the federal capital.”
His government on Tuesday ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff until Thursday, APA reported. A minute of silence was to be held at noon Tuesday.
Israeli Ambassador to Austria Mordechai Rodgold told the Kan public broadcaster that “we had a difficult evening and night.”
Rodgold said the synagogue was closed at the time the shooting started as services had concluded for the day, but that it was still too early to know if it was a target of the attack as the alleyway outside is also filled with bars and restaurants.
“We are of course with our finger on the pulse,” he said and added that the embassy is in contact with local authorities.
According to Rodgold, there has not been an attack on this scale involving the Jewish community in Austria since a 1981 Palestinian terror attack on the same synagogue.
Jewish institutions closed
Oskar Deutch, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, said Tuesday that all Jewish institutions would remain closed as a precaution.
“All Jewish schools, synagogues, and Jewish community institutions, and also all kosher supermarkets and restaurants will remain closed out of caution,” he tweeted. “As of now we can’t confirm or rule out that the synagogue was the target.”
Earlier, Deutsch told the Kurier news site that none of the city’s Jewish institutions appeared to have been hit. He said there were no casualties among the Jewish community.
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.
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.