Austrian security forces were carrying out a massive manhunt Tuesday for at least one attacker still on the run, a day after several gunmen opened fire at multiple locations across central Vienna, killing at least four people and wounding 15 more.
“We experienced an attack last night by at least one Islamist terrorist,” Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told reporters.
“This is a radicalized person who felt close to IS,” said Nehammer, referring to the Islamic State terror group.
Two of the dead were men and two were women. No details were given on their identities.
On attacker was shot dead by police, and a manhunt was underway for at least one more assailant. Austrian authorities have not publicly identified the attackers.
Police said at least one of the attackers was wearing what appeared to be an explosives belt that turned out to be fake.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described the assault as a “repulsive terror attack” and said he could not rule out an anti-Semitic motive for the onslaught, given that the shooting began outside Vienna’s main synagogue. It was closed at the time.
“We are victims of a repulsive terror attack in the federal capital that is still ongoing,” Kurz said hours after the gunfire erupted.
“One of the perpetrators was neutralized, but several perpetrators appear to still be on the loose,” he said. “They seem to also, as far as we know, be very well equipped, with automatic weapons. So they were very well prepared.”
Police said that several shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m. (1900 GMT) on a lively street in the city center and that there were six shooting locations. Unverified footage on social media showed gunmen walking through the streets, apparently shooting at people at random, wounding several.
One video posted to social media apparently featured a gunman yelling “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic.)
And US President Donald Trump tweeted that the “US stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.”
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.
He noted that the Stadttempel synagogue and the community offices were closed at the time of the shooting.
In the neighboring Czech Republic, police stepped up checks at the Austrian border and said they had increased security at Jewish institutions in the country.
“Police are carrying out random checks of vehicles and passengers on border crossings with Austria as a preventive measure in relation to the terror attack in Vienna,” Czech police tweeted.
Police added they had stepped up “supervision over major Jewish facilities in the Czech Republic” in a preventive measure that “reflects developments not only in neighboring Austria.”
Police said one person had died, with public broadcaster ORF stating the individual was a passerby.
Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig told ORF that a second person had died of her injuries and that 15 people had been taken to hospital, seven of them seriously wounded.
Police stated earlier that an officer had also been hurt during the assaults.
The shooting began just hours before Austria was to re-impose a coronavirus lockdown, with people out in bars and restaurants enjoying a final night of relative freedom.
The attacks started at around 8 pm (1900 GMT) when the first gunshots were heard in the city’s centrally located first district.
Kurz said that while police were concentrating on the anti-terror operation, the army would take over the security of major buildings in Vienna.
Nehammer urged Vienna residents to remain in their homes and keep away from all public places or public transport. He said that children would not be expected at school on Tuesday in Vienna.
“It sounded like firecrackers, then we realized it was shots,” said one eyewitness quoted by public broadcaster ORF.
A shooter had “shot wildly with an automatic weapon” before police arrived and opened fire, the witness added.
— ܡܐܪܝܘ ???????????????? (@MarioLeb79) November 2, 2020
Austria had until now been spared the sort of major attacks that have hit other European countries.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, which has experienced three serious attacks in recent weeks, tweeted that “we French share the shock and sorrow of the Austrian people.”
“After France, it’s a friendly nation that has been attacked,” he added, referring to the killing on Thursday of three people by an attacker in the southern city of Nice and the beheading of a schoolteacher by a suspected Islamist outside Paris several days before.
EU Council chief Charles Michel tweeted that the bloc “strongly condemns this cowardly act.”
And Germany’s foreign ministry tweeted that the reports from Austria were “horrifying and disturbing.”
“We can’t give in to hatred that is aimed at dividing our societies,” the ministry added.
— ܡܐܪܝܘ ???????????????? (@MarioLeb79) November 2, 2020
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also “strongly condemned” the shootings.
“There is no room for hatred and violence in our common European home,” he said on Twitter in Italian and German.