Intl desk, Nov 03: Three people have died after multiple gunmen opened fire across central Vienna on Monday, and at least one attacker remained on the run after what Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described as a “repulsive terrorist attack”.
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer warned people to stay away from the centre of the city, as officials said border checks were being reinforced and that children would not be required to attend school on Tuesday.
Nehammer said at the start of the news conference that “several” people had been killed. An official later clarified that two people were dead, a civilian and a suspected attacker.
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig later told broadcaster ORF that a second civilian had died.
“We have brought several special forces units together that are now searching for the presumed terrorists. I am therefore not limiting it to an area of Vienna, because these are mobile perpetrators,” Nehammer earlier told broadcaster ORF.
Kurz said the army would protect sites in the capital so the police could focus on anti-terror operations. Speaking to ORF, he said the attackers “were very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally”.
A woman wounded during the attack died of her injuries in the early hours of Tuesday, Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig told public broadcaster ORF. One suspect was also killed by police forces, with at least one of the attackers still on the run.
The attack began at about 8pm (19:00 GMT) on Monday when several people armed with rifles started opening fire in Seitenstettengasse, the police department said. Shots were fired in “six different locations”, it added.
A large police operation was still ongoing, and authorities urged residents to stay away from the city centre, and not to use public transport. Officials said schools would be closed on Tuesday.
Frequent sirens and helicopters could be heard as emergency services responded to the shootings, and a large area of central Vienna was cordoned off. At least 15 people were reported to be injured.
“We are experiencing difficult hours in our republic,” Kurz said on Twitter, adding that the army would protect sites in the capital so the police could focus on anti-terror operations.
“Our police will act decisively against the perpetrators of this repulsive terror attack,” he said. “We will never be intimidated by terrorism and we will fight this attack with all means”.
Austria’s interior minister, Karl Nehammer, called the incident “an apparent terror attack”. He told ORF: “I can confirm that there were several injured and that there are probably also deaths among them.”
Among those wounded was a police officer.
Local media reported that the shootings happened near Vienna’s main synagogue, but police have not confirmed whether it was the target.
Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch said on Twitter it was not clear whether the synagogue and adjoining offices had been the target, adding that they were closed at the time.
The shooting began at a time when bars and restaurants were packed with customers, just hours before a coronavirus lockdown was due to come into effect at midnight local time (23:00 GMT).
“There are police everywhere, the city centre is closed,” Thomas Mayer, the European Editor at Austria’s Der Standard newspaper told Al Jazeera. “The problem is there are so many people who went to restaurants and bars to have some joy in the last evening before lockdown (and now) these people cannot go home.”
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person fire shots at people sitting outside bars in the street below his window.
“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” he told The Associated Press news agency. “All these bars have tables outside,” he said.
Other European leaders took to social media to express their shock at the shootings.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “deeply shocked” at the attacks, and said Britain stood united with Austria, a sentiment shared by Mark Rutte, Prime Minister of the Netherlands.
“Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and with the Austrian government in dealing with this heinous act,” he wrote on Twitter.
Source: News Agencies