Shooting incident reported near Austrian synagogue, 7 casualties reported
Armed police control a passage near the opera in central Vienna on Nov. 2, 2020, following a shooting near a synagogue. (AFP Photo)

Two men and a woman were killed in the attack on central Vienna on Monday night that the Austrian interior minister blamed on an Islamic State sympathizer, the only known attacker who was shot dead by police, Vienna’s police chief told a news conference on Tuesday.

Another female victim of Monday’s attacks in Vienna died on Tuesday following the initial police announcement, according to news agency APA, which would bring the death toll to four civilians and one attacker.

Vienna’s Kurier daily newspaper also reported a fourth person killed in addition to the attacker who was shot dead, citing Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig.

Seven victims of the attack in Vienna are in a critical, life-threatening condition, Austrian news agency APA reported on Tuesday, citing a Health Association spokeswoman.

About 50 shots were fired throughout the skirmish, according to witnesses. The government announced three days of national mourning, and a minute’s silence at noon.

A massive search operation has been launched for other attackers, with at least 1,000 police officers fanning out across the city, a police spokesman said.

Two people were arrested near Vienna on Tuesday, according to APA, as police hunted accomplices of the gunman or gunmen..

In an early morning televised news conference, Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer repeated calls for the public to stay off the streets.

Nehammer said police had shot dead one attacker, a man wearing an explosives belt that turned out to be fake, whom authorities have identified as an Islamic State sympathizer.

The terrorist who was shot dead by security forces was known to intelligence services. He had shown interest in traveling to Syria in the past and was prevented from doing so in July, according to Austrian newspaper Falter.

“We experienced an attack yesterday evening by at least one Islamist terrorist, a situation that we have not had to live through in Austria for decades,” Nehammer said.

“Austria for more than 75 years has been a strong democracy, a mature democracy, a country whose identity is marked by values and basic rights, with freedom of expression and rule of law, but also tolerance in human coexistence,” he said. “Yesterday’s attack is an attack on just these values.”

THE ASSAILANT killed by police, and other potential gunmen, attacked six locations in central Vienna on Monday evening, starting outside the main synagogue. Witnesses described the men firing into crowds in bars with automatic rifles, as many people took advantage of the last evening before a nationwide curfew was introduced because of COVID-19.

The gunman shot dead in the Vienna attacks on Monday was a 20-year-old born and raised in the city who was known to domestic intelligence because he was one of 90 Austrian Islamists who wanted to travel to Syria, a newspaper editor said on Tuesday.

Kurtin S. had “Albanian roots” but his parents were originally from North Macedonia, the editor of the weekly Falter newspaper Florian Klenk said on Twitter, without giving details of the source for that information. Police thought he was not capable of planning an attack in Vienna, Klenk added.

Police confirmed on Tuesday that three civilians – two men and a woman – were killed in the attacks with at least 15 others wounded, including a police officer. Broadcaster ORF later said a fourth civilian, a woman, had died.

Nehammer said video material had been seized from the home of the known assailant during a search and police were investigating his potential connections.

News agency APA reported that multiple homes had been searched and arrests made, citing the Interior Ministry. A ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the APA report.

Vienna’s police chief declined to provide further details on the attacker’s identity, citing potential endangerment of the investigation.

Police sealed off much of the historic center of the city overnight, urging the public to shelter in place. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport throughout the old town was shut down and police scoured the city.

Videos circulated on social media of a gunman running down a cobblestone street shooting and shouting. One showed a man gunning down a person outside what appeared to be a bar on the street housing the synagogue.

The shooting happened on Schwedenplatz, a square located opposite the Carmelite Quarter where several synagogues are located, but the attack did not involve the Jewish institutions, the president of the city’s communal organization said.

OSKAR DEUTCH, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, on Monday told the Kurier news site that none of the city’s Jewish institutions appear to have been hit. But he did not know if they had been a target in the shooting and warned the city’s Jews to stay home. Officials said that holding school on Tuesday would not be compulsory. 

According to Rabbi Jacob Biderman, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Austria, all of the city’s synagogues have been accounted for with no known injuries or loss of life in the Jewish community. 

“While there is much about this attack that we do not yet know, we are thankful that the Jewish community seems to have been spared from harm and extend our prayers for all those injured,” Biderman told Chabad.org.