The militants started Monday outside the central synagogue and attacked six areas in central Vienna, killing two people and injuring at least 14 people in what Austria called a “repulsive terrorist attack” while hunting for one or more perpetrators.
Witnesses explained that many people were holding automatic rifles and shooting into crowds at bars last evening before COVID-19 began a national curfew. The police shot and killed a perpetrator.
Police blocked most of Vienna’s historic center and urged the public to evacuate. Although many sought refuge in bars and hotels, public transport in the old town was closed and police searched the city.
“It’s the toughest day for Austria,” said Interior Minister Carl Nehamer at a press conference. We are dealing with a terrible terrorist attack that has not been experienced in Austria in years.”
Austria’s capital has been protected from deadly combat attacks that have hit Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels in recent years. Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz said that the “repulsive” act was “definitely a terrorist attack”, but couldn’t say what the motive was.
Oskar Deutsch, head of the empty Jewish community adjoining the synagogue on a narrow cobbled street dotted with pubs, said via Twitter that it was not clear whether the temple was targeted or the office was targeted, but was closed at the time. .
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister told LBC Radio in London that he was living in a synagogue. “As soon as we heard the sound, we looked down from the window and saw gunmen shooting at the various bars and guests of the bar,” he said.
“The snipers were shooting at least 100 shots in front of our building,” he said.
The Interior Ministry said border inspections were intensifying and that children did not need to attend school on Tuesday. People were urged to stay indoors, but Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig told broadcaster ORF that the city would run normally on Tuesday, despite the stronger police.
“As we now know, at least one perpetrator is still on the run,” Nehammer said.
Nehammer previously told ORF, “We have brought together several special forces looking for alleged terrorists. Therefore, they are not restricted to the Vienna area because they are mobile perpetrators.”
Kurz said the military would protect the capital’s site so police could focus on counter-terrorism operations. In an interview with ORF, he said the attackers were “very well equipped with automatic weapons” and “professional preparation”.
A video of a gunman screaming and shooting on a cobblestone street was circulated on social media. One was shown shooting a man from the outside that looked like a bar on the street where the synagogue was located. Reuters could not immediately check the video.
Voices of condolence poured out from around the world as senior officials from the European Union, France, Norway, Greece and the United States expressed the shock of the attack.
French President Emmanuel Mark Long, who has witnessed two deadly knife attacks in Paris and Nice in recent weeks, issued a statement expressing shock and sadness.
“This is our Europe,” he said. “Our enemies need to know who they are dealing with. We will not retreat.”
French officials stepped up security after the attacks in Paris and Nice, where they questioned Islamist motives. Macron has deployed thousands of soldiers to protect sites such as places of worship and schools, and ministers have warned that other Islamic armed attacks could occur.
President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Americans are praying for the people of Vienna.
“There is no justification for such hatred and violence,” said O’Brien. We are with Austria, France and all of Europe in the fight against terror.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned what he calls a “horrible terrorist attack,” adding that “we must all unite against hatred and violence.”
In 1981, two Palestinians attacked the same Vienna synagogue, killing two and wounding 18. In 1985, a Palestinian extremist group killed three civilians in an airport attack.
Nehammer will hold a press conference on the situation on Tuesday at 6am (0500 GMT).