Austrian police have made several arrests at addresses linked to an Islamic State sympathiser who killed at least four people in a terrorist shooting and stabbing attack in Vienna on Monday night.
Two men and two women died of their injuries after the attack in the centre of the Austrian capital, which took place hours before a coronavirus lockdown started.
The suspect, who was shot dead by police nine minutes into the attack, was a 20-year-old man of North Macedonian origin convicted last year for membership of Isis after being arrested on his way to Syria to join the group, officials said. The man, who also possessed an Austrian passport, was released early from a 22-month prison sentence in December.
His victims were “an elderly man an elderly woman, a young male passerby and a waitress”, according to Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz. He praised a police officer shot in the attack and who is in a critical but stable condition as brave.
Kurz said the entire country had been the target of the attack. He called the murders “cold-blooded” and pledged that everything would be done to pursue those behind them.
“The enemy, the Islamist terror, wants to split our society, but we will give no space to this hatred,” he said. “Our enemies are not the members of a religious community, these are terrorists. This is not a fight between Christians and Muslims, or Austrians and migrants, but a fight between civilisation and barbarity.”
Austria’s president, Alexander Van der Bellen, said the nation’s tears were flowing for the victims and their relatives. He said the attack had targeted “life in a liberal democracy which terrorists clearly hate deeply”.
Twenty-two people were injured with gunshot and knife wounds, of whom three were in a critical condition.
The attacker had been armed with an automatic rifle, a hand gun and a machete, and had been wearing a fake suicide vest. He had posted a photograph of himself with the weapons on his Instagram account before the attack, according to the interior minister, Karl Nehammer.
Fourteen people associated with the assailant have been detained for questioning in searches on 18 properties in and near Vienna. Following conflicting reports overnight, Nehammer said on Tuesday afternoon that evidence gathered so far showed no indication that there was a second assailant.
The shooting began at 8pm on Monday evening 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.
Police were trawling through more than 20,000 videos filmed by members of the public to determine the exact course of events. They urged people to resist posting video footage on social media.
Hundreds of people were still taking refuge in cafes, bars and Austria’s national theatre early Tuesday morning. The city centre remained closed off, with 1,000 police officers patrolling the streets. Concertgoers were shown being escorted from the opera house under police protection on Monday night.
Several hotels reportedly gave free accommodation to both Vienna residents and tourists who were stranded in the city.
People in Vienna were urged to stay at home on Tuesday. Schools outside the city centre were open, but parents were urged to keep their children at home if possible. Border checks have been increased.
The attack began just hours before Austria introduced new coronavirus restrictions at midnight on Monday, including an 8pm to 6am curfew. Bars and restaurants in the network of narrow streets known to locals as the “Bermuda triangle” were packed.
A witness said a gunman had started to fire at random at groups of people sitting at tables. “They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said. He told reporters that from his window above Vienna’s main synagogue, he saw at least one person shooting at people sitting outside in the street.
“All these bars have tables outside. This evening is the last evening before the lockdown,” he said. “As of midnight, all bars and restaurants will be closed in Austria for the next month, and a lot of people probably wanted to use that evening to be able to go out.”
Footage purportedly showing the attack and shared by European counter-terrorism agencies showed a man carrying a rifle and wearing a white shirt and beige trousers firing shots toward a building. A male voice can be heard swearing at the attacker from one of the buildings.
Initial reports had suggested that the nearby Stadttempel synagogue could have been the target of the attack, but Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish Community Vienna, said the synagogue on Seitenstettengasse and the office building at the same address were already closed at the time of the attack. It was unclear if it had been a target, he said.
The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde, the organisation that represents Austria’s Jewish community, said it had closed all its synagogues and facilities including schools, restaurants and cultural centres nationwide. Security has been stepped up at Jewish establishments across the country. The IKG’s counselling service had been inundated with requests for help from distressed community members, Erich Nuler, the organisation’s crisis committee spokesman said.
Additional reporting by Ben Doherty