By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) – Austrian police were hunting for other suspects on Tuesday after at least one gunman killed four people in a rampage in the heart of Vienna overnight.
Police killed one gunman wearing an explosive belt that turned out to be fake. Authorities identified him as a 20-year-old convicted jihadist, and said they could not rule out the possibility that other shooters were still on the loose.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pledged in a televised address to “hunt down the perpetrators and those who stand behind them”.
An elderly man and woman, a young passer-by and a waitress had been killed in cold blood, and some of the 14 wounded victims were fighting for their lives, he said.
“The attack yesterday was clearly an Islamic terror attack,” Kurz added. “This is not a conflict between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants. No, this is a fight between the many people who believe in peace and the few (who oppose it). It is a fight between civilisation and barbarism.”
The attacker shot dead by police was identified by Interior Minister Karl Nehammer as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai.
The interior ministry said Fejzulai, a dual citizen of Austria and North Macedonia, had been sentenced to 22 months in jail in April 2019 for attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State, and had been released early in December.
Nehammer said Fejzulai had posted a photo on his Instagram account before the attack, showing himself with two weapons that he was believed to have used. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
LAST OUTING BEFORE CURFEW
Witnesses described crowds being fired on in bars as people enjoyed a last evening out before the start of a nationwide coronavirus curfew. Six locations in central Vienna were attacked, starting outside the main synagogue, which was closed.
Nehammer had said overnight that at least one attacker was still on the loose. On Tuesday morning officials appeared to play down that suggestion, saying it was only a possibility but that they could not rule it out.
Officials said the perpetrator had been armed with an automatic rifle, a hand-gun and a machete. Nehammer told APA news agency that 15 properties had been searched.
Austrian media quoted police as saying two arrests had been made in the nearby town of St Poelten.
A witness to Monday’s attack, Vienna rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, said he saw one shooter but could not be certain there were no others.
“I saw one person. Later, I saw videos and I’m not sure it was the same one. I find it very difficult to identify someone in a fraction of a second,” he told Reuters television.
A police spokesman said at least 1,000 officers were involved in the search. The army was guarding sensitive sites in the capital to free up police for the operation.
The government announced three days of national mourning, and held a minute’s silence at noon.
Police sealed off much of the historic city-centre overnight, urging the public to shelter where they were. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport in the area was shut down until morning.
Pockets of the centre remained cordoned off on Tuesday morning as many residents heeded appeals to stay home.
Oskar Deutsch, head of Vienna’s Jewish community, which has offices adjoining the synagogue on a narrow cobbled street dotted with bars, tweeted that it was not clear whether the synagogue or offices had been a target.
Videos circulated on social media of a gunman running down a cobbled street shooting and shouting. One showed a man gunning down a person outside what appeared to be a bar on the street where the synagogue is located, then returning to shoot the injured person again.
Vienna had been spared the kind of deadly militant attacks that have struck Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels, among others, in recent years.
Condolences poured in from leaders around the world. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned what he called a “horrific terrorist attack”, adding: “We must all stand united against hate and violence.”
Supporters of Islamic State on Tuesday praised the attack on the messaging service Telegram.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna, Michael Shields and Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich, Andrea Shalal in Washington; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Kevin Liffey)