At least two people were shot dead and several others injured in a shooting spree that break out near the Stadttempel synagogue in central Vienna. Hunt for suspect is under way as a gunman armed with rifles is at large after shooting at different locations in the city, according to police. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called it a “repulsive terror attack” and confirmed that one gunman was also killed. The shooting took place near city’s central synagogue but it unclear if that was the target of the attack claimed by Islamic State.
One of the victims succumbed to death at the scene of the shootings while a second – a woman – severely wounded victim lost her life in the hospital, confirmed Mayor Michael Ludwig. 14 people brought to hospital have wounds from gunshots and among them six are critically injured. A police officer is also among the injured, the interior ministry confirmed.
The shootings happened just hours before Austria enforced new phase of nationwide restrictions in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 surge in the winters. Many people were out visiting the bars and restaurants which are now shut until the end November.
European leaders strongly condemned the attack and offered their condolences. UK PM Boris Johnson said he was “deeply shocked by the terrible attacks”.
The Attack on Stadttempel
Police reported that the shootings started at about 19:00 GMT on Monday in the Stadttempel Jewish Neighborhood near Seitenstettengasse synagogue when a man loaded wit rifles opened fire on public outside cafes and restaurants. Members of the special forces quickly reached the scene. One policeman was hit with a gunshot before other officers gunned down the perpetrator, carrying automatic rifle, a pistol and a machete.
Jewish Community leader Oskar Deutsch said the synagogue was not open for the prayers at the time of attack. An officer guarding the temple was among the wounded. The exact number of attackers involved in shooting are not confirmed yet. Austrian media quoting the interior ministry sources, has claimed the arrest of one suspect. Witness Chris Zhao who was sitting in a nearby restaurant gave his account of shooting while talking to BBC news:
“We heard noises that sounded like firecrackers. We heard about 20 to 30 and we thought that to be actually gunfire. We saw the ambulances… lining up. There were victims. Sadly, we also saw a body lying down the street next to us.”
Following the shooting an immediate counter-terrorism operation was launched. Police urged public to avoid the area and not to use public transport. Roadblocks were placed around the city center. Police in the neighboring Czech Republic are also conducting check on border fearing the perpetrator could come their way.
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said the attacker still at large was “heavily armed and dangerous”. Talking in a news conference he added that children in Vienna might not attend school on Tuesday.
Austrian Chancellor Kurz
Chancellor Kurz took to twitter saying “we are experiencing difficult hours in our republic”, adding that the army take charge of the security of major buildings in Vienna.
“Our police will act decisively against the perpetrators of this hideous terrorist attack. We will never allow ourselves to be intimidated by terrorism,” he said.
Reaction from Europe
Austria had until now been relieved of the attacks experienced by its EU neighbors particularly France of late. Leaders across the region condemned the shooting with French Premier Macron saying that Europe must not “give up” to the terrorist activities.
“We the French people share the shock and grief of the Austrian people, struck this evening by an attack in the heart of their capital, Vienna. After France, a friend of ours is attacked. This is our Europe. Our enemies must know who they are dealing with,” he said.
The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said the country’s “thoughts are with the people of Austria – we stand united with you against terror” while Home Secretary Priti Patel said “we stand ready to support in any way we can”.
European Council President Charles also condemned the cowardly act that violated human values and sanctity of human life. Dutch PM Mark expressed his solidarity with Austrians and condemned the heinous act committed by the perpetrators.