One man who opened fire in central Vienna on Monday night armed with automatic rifles, pistols and machineries and wearing a fake explosive device was a 20-year-old Austrian citizen who had sought to travel to Syria to study. Enter the Islamic State, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Nehammer added that the attack left four people dead and 22 more injured in the center of the Austrian capital before the gunman was killed by police nine minutes after the attack began, Nehammer said, adds that the evidence gathered so far does not suggest that others are involved. . The attacker, an Austrian who also holds nationality from North Macedonia, is identified as Kujtim Fejzulai by officials and his former lawyer, Nikolaus Rast.
Just 24 hours after the attack, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the gunman “soldiers of the caliphate”, who used automatic weapons, pistols and knives to kill or wounding “nearly 30 Crusaders,” according to a statement translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, the online extremist message tracking organization.
It is not clear from the Islamic State’s statement whether it helped plan the attack or whether others were involved. But ISIS has used similar language before to assert responsibility for attacks committed by individuals.
Nehammer said the suspect had been arrested once before after attempting to go to Syria to join the Islamic State. The man was sentenced to 22 months in prison for the attempt but was released early, raising questions about how someone in the sights of the authorities carried out such an attack. .
The Austrians vowed that the attacker would not divide their society or destroy their democracy. Austria’s Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz said in a speech to the country on Tuesday morning that the shooting was “undoubtedly a terrorist strike by Islamic forces”, which he called “an attack. out of hatred, our hatred of our fundamental values. “
“We often consider ourselves a fortunate island where violence and terror are known only from abroad,” he said. “But the sad truth is: Even if we live in a country that is generally safe, we don’t live in a safe world.”
The Austrian government has announced the official three-day mourning period, starting Tuesday, during which flags on public buildings will be lowered to half a staff. A minute of silence was held at noon.
On Tuesday morning, Harald Sörös, a spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior, said a second woman died from her injuries, bringing the number of victims to four. Mr. Nehammer later confirmed that 22 people were injured.
Monday’s violence followed recent terrorist attacks in France – including the beheading of a teacher and a knife attack at a church – were all linked to polar Islamists group. But Kurz warned against assumptions about the Muslim community.
“This is not a war between Christians and Muslims, or between Austrians and migrants,” he said. “This is a war between civilization and the barbarism.”
Hope Vural, the president of the Muslim Faith Community in Austria, condemned the “cowardly, rebellious attack”, calling it “an attack on our Vienna” and “an attack on all. we.”
“Our democracy, liberty and order are stronger than violence and terror,” he said.
An ecumenical memorial service for the victims was held on Tuesday night at St. Joseph’s Church. Stephen.
What do we know about gunmen who were killed, and others in custody?
Mr. Nehammer, Austria’s Interior Minister, said the attacker was known to the authorities and had previously been charged with conspiring jihad and attempting to become a member of a terrorist organization, after he tried went to Syria to join the Islamic State but was unsuccessful.
Nehammer said he was sentenced to 22 months in prison but was released early.
He defended his decision to release the young man, pointing out his good behavior in prison. And he insists the young man appears to have been “completely integrated” into society – though evidence found in his apartment, including a stockpile of ammunition, follows the attack. another story.
“There were no warning signs of his radicalization, and promised to revisit the judicial system to try to make sure that a similar mistake doesn’t happen again,” Nehammer said.
Before the attack, the man posted a photo of himself on social media. It shows him holding a machete and a rifle with a message “clearly demonstrating his sympathy for IS”, the minister said, referring to the Islamic State.
The lawyer representing the man in 2018 after he was arrested while attempting to join ISIS said there was no sign of him in danger. Attorney Nikolaus Rast said his client had planned to go to Syria to join the extremist group with a friend, but could only go to Turkey before being arrested.
Mr Rast said, there was no hint that his parents shared his views, and in fact, the man’s mother was the one who informed authorities when he went missing.
Mr. Rast said that his client’s regret after returning to Austria seemed genuine and that his behavior in prison resulted in him being released after only about a year of 22-month sentence. He took part in a special radical reduction program, the lawyer said.
“He gives the impression of a young man looking for who he is,” said Mr. Rast. “At no point did I get the impression that he was dangerous.”
At least 14 people linked to the gunman in Austria have been detained and are being questioned, and 18 locations are being searched, Nehammer said. Several raids were made, mainly in Vienna, but also at St Pölten, one hour west of the city, and in Linz, about 115 miles west of the capital.
The cobbled streets of central Vienna, often packed with tourists, government employees and other citizens, are largely deserted on Tuesday, saving hundreds of armed police. Attendance is optional and residents are encouraged to stay at home.
The church bells rang at noon, when the city paused for a moment to pay tribute to the victims. Among them, Austria’s largest church bell – “Pummerin”, is hanging in the north tower of St. Basilica. Stephen and used only for special events – has resounded.
Monday’s attack came hours before the country began locking its doors against the coronavirus, with many gathering outdoors in Vienna before it took effect. Hundreds of others were trapped in the city’s famous opera house and national theater, both of which were evacuated by police hours after the curtains fell.
Ameli Pietsch, 23, who was in the area an hour before the attack started: “You can feel a lot of people want to get out again before the attack starts. “It was a light evening, and a lot of people were outside.”
All that changed in an instant. People scrambled from the streets to shelter in restaurants, and all trams and subways in the city center were halted when police urged residents to stay on the spot.
Sirens and helicopters filled the night air as people tried to absorb what was going on.
“We are in shock,” said Farnaz Alavi, 34, a human resources consultant in Vienna.
Mr. Kurz said in his speech Tuesday morning that the gunman killed four people at close range – an elderly man, an elderly woman, a young man passing by and a waitress. work in a restaurant.
But he also called on people to remember that “our enemies are never all people of the same religion, our enemies are never all people from a particular country”. it is rather “our enemies are extremists and terrorists”.
“They don’t belong to our society,” he added.
Authorities are still piecing together Monday night’s chain of events.
Nehammer and police said investigators were still reconstructing the events that happened on Monday night, trying to determine if a single gunman, as they believed, could be responsible for the gunfire. recorded in all six locations.
The first emergency calls came to police at 8pm on Monday from Seitenstettengasse, where the city’s main synagogue is surrounded by bars, an area known locally as the “Devil’s Triangle “. There, the gunman opened fire at a young man on the street.
Around there, a woman waiting for a table at a bar in Ruprechtsplatz, named for the city’s oldest church, was shot dead. At 8:09 pm, police shot and killed the gunman in the same square.
Police say another victim was found on Fleischmarkt – a few minutes’ walk from Ruprechtsplatz – and a third victim on a nearby open square beside a canal running through the city, Franz-Josefs-Kai. A 28-year-old policeman was also shot there, but a group of young people dragged him to safety and is believed to have saved his life.
A fourth victim died of her injuries in the hospital and it is not clear where she was shot in the city.
The city has found itself in the cross before.
Austria – and especially Vienna – has been the target of terrorist attacks for many years, often with lethal results. Religious and political tensions, sometimes without a clear link to Austria, have resulted in sporadic violence.
In 1975, a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the city was attacked by six men using submachine guns. They killed three people and took at least 60 hostages.
A self-responsible group viewed the attack as “an act of political and information scramble” against “an alliance between American imperialism and surrendering reactionary forces in the Arab homeland.”
In 1981, Heinz Nittel, a leader of the Austrian Socialist party and the head of the Austro-Israel Friendship Association, was assassinated outside his home by an attacker linked to a Palestinian militia group. .
Two people were killed in 1981 when terrorists attacked a synagogue with grenades and guns. Immediately after Christmas 1985, panic enveloped the Vienna airport when three gunmen entered the check-in room and opened fire with submachine guns, killing three and injuring dozens.
Witnesses at the time said the attack started when an El Al Israel Airlines flight was taking off. The attack appeared to have been coordinated with another 10-minute earlier El Al test in Rome.
From 1993 to 1997, a series of mail bombs and other explosive devices, including one that injured the mayor of Vienna, raised fears of neo-fascist terrorism in the country. The man convicted in the attacks said his goal was to create a unity of German-speaking regions.
Melissa Eddy, Christopher F. Schuetze and Katrin Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Megan Specia from London. Report contributed by Anton Troianovski from Moscow; Aurelien Breeden from Paris; Livia Albeck-Ripka from Darwin, Australia; Joe Ritchie is from Hong Kong; and Christoph Koettl, Farnaz Fassihi and Emmett Lindner from New York.