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Vienna terrorist likely acted alone, ‘fooled’ de-radicalization program

Austrian police detain 14 after shooting rampage that killed 4; Kujtim Fejzulai, 20, posed on Instagram with weapons before attack, wore fake explosive belt, was IS sympathizer

  • A gunman points his weapon during a terror attack on multiple sites in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (Twitter screenshot)
    A gunman points his weapon during a terror attack on multiple sites in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (Twitter screenshot)
  • After a shooting incident, armed police move into position at the scene in Vienna, Austria, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
    After a shooting incident, armed police move into position at the scene in Vienna, Austria, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
  • Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz places a candle at a crime scene as he pays his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna on November 3, 2020 (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
    Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz places a candle at a crime scene as he pays his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna on November 3, 2020 (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
  • Police officers stay in position at stairs named 'Theodor Herzl Stiege' near a synagogue after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
    Police officers stay in position at stairs named 'Theodor Herzl Stiege' near a synagogue after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
  • A bouquet of white roses placed at the Austrian embassy in Berlin on November 3, 2020 after multiple shootings in the center of Vienna, Austria. (Odd ANDERSEN/AFP)
    A bouquet of white roses placed at the Austrian embassy in Berlin on November 3, 2020 after multiple shootings in the center of Vienna, Austria. (Odd ANDERSEN/AFP)
  • Investigators at the scene following a shooting attack in the Austrian capital Vienna, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
    Investigators at the scene following a shooting attack in the Austrian capital Vienna, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

VIENNA, Austria — Austrian police have arrested 14 people in raids linked to Monday’s deadly terror attack in Vienna and have found no evidence that a second shooter was involved, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Tuesday.

“There have been 18 raids in Vienna and Lower Austria and 14 people have been detained,” Nehammer told a televised press conference.

The minister added that police believe that the attack in central Vienna was carried out by a lone gunman, Kujtim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Islamic State sympathizer who was killed by police on Monday night.

The video material evaluated by the police “does not at this time show any evidence of a second attacker,” Nehammer said.

Fejzulai, a dual Austrian and Macedonian national, was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 because he had tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State terror group.

Nehammer said he had been on a de-radicalization program and had managed to “fool” it and secure an early release in December under juvenile law.

“The perpetrator managed to fool the de-radicalization program of the justice system, to fool the people in it, and to get an early release through this,” the minister said.

Nehammer told news agency APA that Fejzulai had posted a photo on his Instagram account before the attack that showed him with two of the weapons he apparently used.

At a later news conference, Nehammer said the assailant was armed with a fake explosive vest, a Kalashnikov, an automatic rifle, a handgun and a machete.

Fejzulai rampaged through a Vienna nightlife district hours ahead of a coronavirus lockdown, fatally shooting four people before he was killed by police, Austrian authorities said.

Unverified video footage showed the gunman, dressed in white coveralls, firing off bursts apparently at random as he ran down the Austrian capital’s cobblestone streets. In one clip, he is heard apparently shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic).

Two men and two women died from their injuries in the attack. The deceased were “an older man, an older woman, a young passerby and a waitress,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in a televised address on Tuesday.

Authorities said a police officer who tried to get in the way of the attacker was shot and wounded, along with 21 other people.

“Yesterday’s attack was clearly an Islamist terror attack,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. “It was an attack out of hatred — hatred for our fundamental values, hatred for our way of life, hatred for our democracy in which all people have equal rights and dignity.”

Authorities worked well into Tuesday to determine whether there were any other attackers. 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 the city on Tuesday morning.

An armed policeman stands guard in front of the synagogue in Seitenstettengasse in Vienna on November 3, 2020, one day after the shootings nearby and at multiple locations across central Vienna. (Photo by HANS PUNZ / APA / AFP)

By mid-afternoon, investigators working 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 along with a reinforced police presence, he said.

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 month-long coronavirus lockdown, which started at midnight.

“We will unearth and chase down the perpetrators, those behind them and like-minded people and give them the punishment they deserve,” Kurz said. “We will pursue all those who have anything to do with this outrage by all available means.”

His government on Tuesday ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-staff until Thursday.

Austria held a minute of silence at midday Tuesday, accompanied by the tolling of bells in the capital. Kurz, President Alexander Van der Bellen and other leading politicians laid wreaths and candles where the attack took place.

Screen capture from video of police at the scene after gunshots were heard, in Vienna, November 2, 2020. (AP Photo)

Alois Schroll, an Austrian lawmaker and the mayor of the town of Ybbs, said he had just arrived at a nearby restaurant when the attack started. He said he “saw many, many people running with their hands up high, they were in a panic and screaming.”

Police “sealed off the entire restaurant,” Schroll, 52, told The Associated Press. “People started getting phone calls … so finally we understood what was going on.”

“People inside the restaurant were in shock, there were several women who were crying. And it wasn’t until shortly before 1 a.m., that police finally let us out of the restaurant.”

Schroll said he wasn’t allowed back to his apartment because the area was still blocked off — “instead, we had to go across a bridge, also with our hands raised up. We couldn’t find a hotel, so we were just wandering around for hours.”

After a shooting incident the glass at an entrance of a car parking is broken in Vienna, Austria, November 3, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Fejzulai’s lawyer in the 2019 case, Nikolaus Rast, 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. “I can’t say exactly what happened.”

Fejzulai’s family “wasn’t strictly religious at all; the family wasn’t radical — it was a completely normal family,” Rast said. “I still remember that the family couldn’t believe what had happened with their son.”

The attack drew swift condemnation and assurances of support from leaders around Europe, including from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has experienced three Islamist attacks in recent weeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel. US President Donald Trump also condemned “yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.”

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