At least one Islamic extremist — a 20-year-old armed with an automatic rifle and a fake explosive vest — rampaged through a crowded Vienna nightlife district hours ahead of a coronavirus lockdown, leaving four people dead before being killed by police, Austrian authorities said Tuesday.
The suspect in Monday night’s attack was identified as a young Austrian-North Macedonian dual citizen with a previous terror conviction for attempting to join the Islamic State extremist group in Syria.
Unverified video showed the suspect, dressed in white coveralls, firing off bursts apparently at random as he ran down the Austrian capital’s cobblestone streets.
Police have arrested several other people and searched 15 houses and apartments, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told the Austrian news agency APA.
Nehammer said video material so far offered no evidence of another attacker but that the investigation is ongoing.
He said that the number of wounded has risen to 22.
Two men and two women died from their injuries in the attack Monday evening, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said. He said a police officer who tried to get in the way of the attacker was shot and wounded.
Vienna’s hospital service said seven people were in life-threatening condition Tuesday after the attack, the Austrian news agency APA reported.
“It is now confirmed that yesterday’s attack was clearly an Islamist terror attack,” 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.”
Nehammer later told APA that the dead assailant, who had roots in the Balkan nation of North Macedonia, had a previous conviction under a law that punishes membership in terrorist organizations.
‘Repugnant attack on innocent citizens’
The attacker, named as Kujtim Fejzulai, was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 because he had tried to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group. He was granted early release in December under juvenile law.
Nehammer told 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.
“[The suspect] was equipped with a fake explosive vest and and an automatic rifle, a handgun and a machete to carry out this repugnant attack on innocent citizens,” Nehammer said.
Authorities were still trying to determine whether further attackers may be on the run. 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 Vienna on Tuesday morning.
3 days of mourning
The shooting began shortly after 8 p.m. local time 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.
Vienna police Chief Gerhard Puerstl said the attacker was killed at 8:09 p.m.
But authorities continued to look for potential further assailants.
“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.”
Kurz’s government on Tuesday ordered three days of official mourning, with flags on public buildings to be flown at half-mast until Thursday, APA reported.
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 in the area where the attack took place.
Suspect’s former lawyer puzzled by attack
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street below his window near the synagogue.
“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Hofmeister said. “All these bars have tables outside. This evening is the last evening before the lockdown.”
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.”
Thank you very much <a href=”https://twitter.com/jacindaardern?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@jacindaardern</a> for your kind words of solidarity and support! This means a lot to us in these difficult times. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Austria?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Austria</a> will not be intimidated by such horrific acts of terror. Together we will defend our open societies and democratic values.
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, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Monday night as he prepared for his final rally ahead of election day: “Our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe.”
“These evil attacks against innocent people must stop,” Trump went on. “The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.”
Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s foremost religious institution, condemned the “terrorist attacks” in Vienna. It called on international institutions “to stand united” against terrorism and reject violence and hatred.
Austria’s military has provided 75 soldiers to guard key sites in Vienna, freeing up police to continue the investigation.