A huge manhunt was underway Tuesday after gunmen opened fire at multiple locations across central Vienna, killing at least four people and wounding several more in what Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described as a “repulsive terror attack.” One of the suspected killers, identified as an Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) sympathizer, was shot dead by police.
Authorities said they were searching for at least one more assailant.
Police said the dead suspect had an assault rifle and was wearing a fake suicide vest.
The attacks, in six locations, began shortly after 8 p.m. Monday near Vienna’s main synagogue in the center of the city. They were carried out by “several suspects armed with rifles,” police said Monday night.
The shooting started just hours before Austria was to re-impose a coronavirus lockdown, with people out in bars and restaurants enjoying a final night of relative freedom.
The death toll rose on Tuesday to four, not including the suspect who was killed, authorities said.
Before the fourth victim perished, police had said another 15 people were seriously wounded. One of those hurt was an officer.
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference Tuesday that the dead attacker was “a radicalized person who felt close to IS.”
Police used explosives to blast their way into the apartment of the suspect, who’d been “heavily armed,” the minister added
He said, “According to what we currently know, there is at least one attacker who is still on the run.”
“At the moment we can’t rule out that there are still other attackers out there,” Nehammer explained. “That’s why we are investigating the environment of the attacker and also all of Vienna in order to make sure whether there was just one perpetrator or two.”
It was unclear how many assailants were involved in the assault.
Speaking to ORF, Austrian leader Kurz said the attackers were “were very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally.”
He tweeted, “Our police will act decisively against the perpetrators of this repulsive terror attack. We will never be intimidated by terrorism and we will fight this attack with all means.”
Kurz said that while police were concentrating on the anti-terror operation, the army would take over the security of major buildings in Vienna.
Nehammer urged Vienna residents to remain in their homes and keep away from all public places and public transport. He said children wouldn’t be expected to go to school Tuesday.
Sirens and helicopters could be heard in the city center as emergency services responded to the attack.
An AFP photographer said large numbers of police were guarding an area near the city’s world-famous opera house.
The location of the initial shooting was close to a major synagogue.
The president of Vienna’s Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, said shots had been fired “in the immediate vicinity” of the Stadttempel synagogue but added that it wasn’t clear whether whether the temple – which was closed at the time — had been the target of an attack.
“It sounded like firecrackers, then we realized it was shots,” said one eyewitness quoted by ORF.
A shooter had “shot wildly with an automatic weapon” before police arrived and opened fire, the witness added.
At the busy bars and restaurants, people were told to remain indoors.
“At the beginning, I thought to myself that maybe we were making an American film or that they had drunk too much,” said waiter Jimmy Eroglu, 42.
But then he heard shots. “The police came in and said, ‘You all have to stay inside because there’s a probably a dead man there.'”
Support from abroad
Austria had until now been spared the sort of major attacks that have hit other European countries.
President Emmanuel Macron of France, which has seen two serious attacks recently, tweeted that “we French share the shock and sorrow of the Austrian people”.
“After France, it’s a friendly nation that has been attacked,” he added, referring to the killing on Thursday of three people by an attacker in the southern city of Nice after the beheading of a schoolteacher by a suspected Islamist outside Paris on October 16.
European Council chief Charles Michel tweeted that the bloc “strongly condemns this cowardly act.”
European and global leaders also voiced support for Austria.
Czech police said they were conducting random checks on the border with Austria.