Austrian police have made several arrests at addresses linked to an Islamic State sympathizer 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 center 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, identified as Kujtim F, 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.
Oskar Deutsch, president of the Viennese Israelite community, said the synagogue had been closed at the time of the shooting, which occurred around 8 p.m. local time, just hours before the start of a nationwide lockdown to combat a resurgence of COVID-19, according to police.
Police sealed off the entire center of Vienna and asked people to stay away from all public places and avoid public transport.
Schlomo Hofmeister, 45 years old, the chief rabbi in Vienna, said he first thought someone had set off fireworks over the Danube River that winds through the city’s restaurant and nightlife district. Then he realized it was gunfire and he rushed to the window, seeing at least two gunmen dressed in white garb, wearing black ski hats and white face masks, shooting into the crowds sitting at the cafes outside.
He said the gunmen didn’t appear to be targeting the synagogue. “The people were the targets; they were going after the people, not the synagogue,” Rabbi Hofmeister said.
Footage circulating on social media showed a man dressed in white shooting a rifle while running down a street in what appeared to be the vicinity of the synagogue. Another video showed people tending to a person lying in a pool of blood in front of a restaurant located across the road from the synagogue.
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 remained in 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.