At least one 'Islamist terrorist' behind Vienna attack, Austrian minister says

3 people confirmed dead, condolences pour in from around the world

An alleged terrorist filmed running through the streets of Vienna with an automatic rifle.

Attacks across central Vienna, in which gunmen killed three people and injured several others, were carried out by at least one “Islamist terrorist,” Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said on Tuesday.

In an early morning televised news conference, Nehammer repeated calls for the public to stay at home, saying one attacker, who was wearing an explosives belt that turned out to be fake, was an Islamic State sympathizer, Reuters reported.

That assailant was shot to death by police, who are still hunting for other attackers.

“We experienced an attack yesterday evening from at least one Islamist terrorist,” Nehammer said, adding that the attack was an attempt to weaken or divide Austria’s democratic society.

Gunmen attacked six locations in central Vienna on Monday evening. First Kronen Zeitung reported a blast and an exchange of fire at the Seitenstettengasse synagogue in the capital. Numerous shots are said to have also been fired at the nearby square Schwedenplatz, where initially seven people were repored dead. There have also been shots in the subway. 

Separately, there was ongoing hostage-taking in a restaurant on Mariahilfer Strasse.

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.

As of 06:30 am, the police confirmed on Tuesday that three civilians were killed in the assaults in Vienna's inner city district - two men and one woman - with 15 others wounded, including a police officer.

Condolences poured in from around the world, with top officials from the European Union, France, Norway, Greece and the United States expressing their shock at the attacks.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was shocked by the attacks.

"During these terrible hours when Vienna has become a target of terrorist violence, my thoughts are with the people there and the security forces who are countering the danger," explained the Chancellor on Twitter. "We Germans stand by our Austrian friends in sympathy and solidarity," the Chancellor continues. “Islamist terror is our common enemy. The fight against these murderers and their instigators is our common fight. "

Federal Finance Minister Olaf Scholz also wrote on Twitter of “terrible news”, while Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier declared: “The terrorist attack in Vienna shook us deeply.” .

"We, French, share the shock and sadness of the Austrians after an attack in Vienna," said in the meantime President Emmanuel Macron in Twitter in German. Macron had also promised Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz full solidarity and support from France and offered help if it was necessary, according to the presidential palace in Paris.

As EUROPOST reminds, France itself was recently affected by several attacks with an Islamist background.

From the UK, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was appalled on Twitter. Addressing the Austrians, he wrote: “We stand united with you against terrorism.”

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte also condemned the alleged attack. “In our common European house there must be no place for hatred and violence,” wrote Conte on Twitter. "Italy stands by the Austrian people. The country thinks of the families of the victims and the injured."

Rome's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio made a similar statement. “Europe must react,” he urged.

In Brussels, EU Council President Charles Michel condemned the alleged terrorist attack as a cowardly act against life and human values ​​"My thoughts are with the victims and the people in Vienna after the terrible attack tonight," said Michel. "Europe is on the side of Austria."

Similar statements wee made by the EU Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen, EU Parliament President David Sassoli and EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell, the German newspaper Handelsblatt reports.

The democratic US presidential candidate Joe Biden also took time to speak of the “terrible terrorist attack” in Vienna.

“We must all stand together against hatred and violence,” he said. The US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brian later added: "There is no justification for such hatred and violence".

US President Donald Trump also expressed his condolences on Twitter. “Our prayers are with the Viennese after another heinous act of terrorism in Europe. These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The US is fighting terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists, with Austria, France and all of Europe. "

“We are currently experiencing difficult times in our republic. I would like to thank all the emergency services who risk their lives, especially today for our security, ”wrote late at night Austria's Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. “The whole country is in thoughts with the victims, injured and their relatives, to whom I express my deepest sympathy.” Kurz also thanked the EU leaders and other heads of state who had already expressed their sympathy after the attack on Monday evening.

Kurz told the ORF that it was still unclear whether public life could be resumed normally in the morning. This depends on the development during the night.

"An anti-Semitic background could not be ruled out given the crime scene," said Kurz with a view to the location of the first shots near a synagogue. "We can not really say anything about the background." According to the government, compulsory schooling is suspended on Tuesday.

In 1981, two people were killed and 18 injured during an attack by two Palestinians at the same synagogue. In 1985, a Palestinian extremist group attacked Vienna airport with hand grenades and attack rifles, killing three civilians. In recent years, however, Austria has been spared the sort of large-scale attacks seen in Paris, Berlin and London.

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