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Islamic State claims responsibility for Vienna terror attack

Terror group releases video of alleged gunman Kujtim Fejzulai pledging allegiance to caliph, hails him for targeting ‘gatherings of Crusaders’ in Austrian capital

In a video distributed by the Islamic State terror group, Vienna attacker Kujtim Fejzulai pledges allegiance to IS caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, while holding a gun and a long, serrated knife. (Screenshot)
In a video distributed by the Islamic State terror group, Vienna attacker Kujtim Fejzulai pledges allegiance to IS caliph Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, while holding a gun and a long, serrated knife. (Screenshot)

The Islamic State terror group on Tuesday claimed responsibility for the shooting attack in Vienna the night before, which left four dead and 15 wounded.

In a statement delivered over an IS-linked Telegram channel, the terror group said “the Caliphate’s soldier, Abu Dajana al-Albani” attacked “gatherings of Crusaders” in downtown Vienna.

“All praise and favor to God,” the statement concluded.

The alleged perpetrator, Kujtim Fejzulai, was shot and killed by police during the incident. Fejzulai was an ethnic Albanian, which could explain his Arabic nom de guerre, which literally means “the Albanian.”

In a video distributed by the terror group, Fejzulai can be seen pledging allegiance to the IS caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, while he holds a gun and a long, serrated knife.

Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Austrian-North Macedonian dual citizen, had a previous terror conviction for attempting to join the Islamic State group in Syria. Police searched 18 properties as well as the suspect’s apartment, detaining 14 people associated with the assailant who are being questioned, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.

“The fact is that the terrorist managed to deceive the judicial system’s deradicalization program” to secure his release, Nehammer said, adding that the system should be reevaluated.

He also said that an attempt to strip Fejzulai of his Austrian citizenship had failed for lack of enough evidence.

A gunman points his weapon during a terror attack on multiple sites in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (Twitter screenshot)

In North Macedonia, police said a list of suspects sent by Austria included two others with dual Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship.

In Switzerland, police in the city of Winterthur said an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old were arrested in consultation with Austrian authorities. Investigators are now trying to determine the nature of the two men’s contact with the Vienna suspect.

Some of the circumstances of the Vienna shooting are reminiscent of the case of Usman Khan, who stabbed two people to death in 2019 in central London. Khan had been sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted for his role in a plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He was released in December 2018 after serving half his sentence, as are most prisoners in Britain. While in prison, Khan had begun working with a program that seeks to rehabilitate criminals through storytelling and workshops.

Nikolaus Rast, Fejzulai’s lawyer in the 2019 case, told public broadcaster ORF that his client had seemed “completely harmless” at the time.

“He was a young man who was searching for his place in society, who apparently went to the wrong mosque, ended up in the wrong circles,” Rast said.

Fejzulai’s family “wasn’t radical,” Rast added. “I still remember that the family couldn’t believe what had happened with their son.”

After a shooting incident, armed police move into position at the scene in Vienna, Austria, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Authorities worked well into Tuesday to determine whether there were any other attackers, with some 1,000 police officers on duty in the city. People in Vienna were urged to stay at home if possible on Tuesday, and children did not have to go to school.

By mid-afternoon, investigators sifting through copious video evidence had found “no indication of a second perpetrator,” Nehammer said. “But because the evaluation is not yet concluded, we cannot yet say conclusively how many perpetrators are responsible for the crime.”

For the time being, an elevated security level will remain in place in Vienna, he said. The country held a minute of silence at midday Tuesday, accompanied by the tolling of bells in the capital, and the government ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff.

The shooting began shortly after 8 p.m. Monday near Vienna’s main synagogue as many people were enjoying a last night of open restaurants and bars before a monthlong coronavirus lockdown, which started at midnight.

Nine minutes later, it was over, Nehammer said.

The attack drew swift condemnation and assurances of support from leaders around Europe, including from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has experienced three terror attacks in recent weeks. US President Donald Trump also condemned “yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.” Britain raised its terror threat level to severe, its second-highest level, following the attack in Austria and others in France.

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