Members of the Austrian Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team had shot and killed a man believes to be an “Islamic terrorist”, moments after shooting four people dead in a busy street in Vienna Monday night (Tuesday in Manila).
Aside from the casualties, at least 20 more people were hospitalized after sustaining gunshot wounds coming from a hail of bullets released on an automatic rifle by a 20-year-old male who was released early from jail in December.
Police said two men and two women died after gunmen opened fire at six locations in the city centre.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the four who died were an elderly woman, an elderly man, a young male passer-by and a waitress. Witnesses described how the gunmen had opened fire on people outside bars and chased them as they fled inside.
It was clearly an attack driven by “hatred of our way of life, our democracy”, the chancellor said. He earlier spoke of a “repulsive terror attack”.
The nation was engaged not in a battle between Christians and Muslims, he stressed, but “between civilization and barbarism”.
Islamic State connection
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer described the dead gunman as an “Islamist terrorist”, jailed for 22 months in April 2019 after trying to get to war-torn Syria to join Islamic State (IS) jihadists. The 20-year-old had been released early last December under more lenient terms for young adults.
Mr Nehammer urged Austrians to “please stay at home if possible” during the police operation and “avoid the inner city”. Children should stay at home, not go to school on Tuesday, he said.
Austrian daily Der Standard reports that 90% of shops in the city centre are now shut.
The victims were in a city centre area busy with people in bars and restaurants, near Vienna’s central synagogue.
Police cordoned off some streets and brought in reinforcements. They are also being helped by the Austrian army.
Addressing a news conference, Mr Nehammer said police had searched the home of the dead gunman and seized video material. He had been wearing a fake explosive belt, police said.
The man was originally from North Macedonia and had a previous conviction for terrorist association, Mr Nehammer said. He had both Austrian and Macedonian citizenship.
Several arrests were made during searches of 15 nearby homes. Two suspects were also arrested in St Pölten, a town to the west of Vienna.
The Vienna shooting comes after a spate of Islamist militant attacks in France.
Last month French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded outside a school in a suburb of Paris. Then, as the government launched new measures to tackle militant Islam, a Tunisian man fatally stabbed three people in a cathedral in Nice.
The worst IS attack in Europe in recent years was in November 2015, when gunmen killed 130 people in Paris.
Mr Nehammer said at least one “heavily armed and dangerous” attacker was believed to be still at large. Officials were quoted as saying there could have been as many as four attackers.
The attack came hours before Austria imposed new national restrictions to try to stem rising cases of coronavirus. Many people were enjoying drinks and eating out before a midnight curfew.
Police named six crime scenes in central Vienna: Seitenstettengasse and nearby Morzinplatz, Salzgries, Fleischmarkt, Bauernmarkt and Graben. The suspect was shot dead near St Rupert’s Church.
Austria’s government announced three days of national mourning, starting immediately. Flags flew at half-mast and a minute’s silence was held at midday. Schools are to hold a minute’s silence for the victims on Wednesday morning.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe must not “give up” in the face of attacks. Last week he described the murder of three people in Nice as an “Islamist terrorist attack”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the UK would “stand ready to support in any way we can”.
US President Donald Trump – on the campaign trail ahead of Tuesday’s election – described it as “yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe”.
His Democratic challenger Joe Biden condemned the “horrific terrorist attack”, adding: “We must all stand united against hate and violence.”.