Convicted ISIS supporter carried out deadly terrorist attack in Vienna

Gunman shot dead by police but manhunt under way across Austrian capital for possible accomplices

A gunman who killed four people in Vienna on the city’s final night before lockdown was a convicted ISIS supporter who was freed from prison last year after “fooling” his way through a deradicalisation course.

The terrorist - named as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai - was shot dead by police nine minutes after he opened fire in the Austrian capital’s historic city centre on Monday.

A day later Swiss officials said two men were arrested near Zurich in connection with the deadly shooting rampage in Vienna.

"Police investigations led to the identification of an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old Swiss citizen. The two men were arrested on Tuesday (November 3, 2020) afternoon in Winterthur in coordination with the Austrian authorities," Zurich police said in a statement.

Armed with an assault rifle and handguns, the terrorist unleashed a series of attacks on six locations as people enjoyed their last few hours outside bars and cafes before Austria was plunged into its second lockdown.

Two men and two women were killed and many more, including a police officer, were seriously injured.

Fejzulai was released from prison in December after serving less than a year for being an ISIS sympathiser.

The attacker, who held Austrian and North Macedonian citizenship, was sentenced to 22 months’ jail in April 2019 but was granted early release.

Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said Fejzulai had completed a deradicalisation programme.

"The perpetrator managed to fool the deradicalisation programme of the justice system, to fool the people in it, and to get an early release through this,” he said.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz earlier vowed to “hunt down the perpetrators and those who stand behind them”.

The attack was first reported near the city's Seitenstettengasse synagogue around 8pm.

The gunman, who was dressed in white coveralls, had a fake explosive belt strapped to his body.

He had posted a photo on his Instagram account shortly before the attack with two of the weapons authorities believed were used in the attack.

His victims were an elderly woman, an elderly man, a young male passer-by and a waitress. Three of the wounded victims were in critical condition.

The assault sparked a city-wide manhunt for further attackers but by Tuesday afternoon authorities said analysis of video footage “does not at this time show any evidence of a second attacker”.

However, the possibility of a second shooter is yet to be officially ruled out by investigators.

Residents were told to stay indoors as up to 1,000 police officers spread out across the city in the hunt for possible accomplices.

Detectives arrested 14 people in 18 raids across Vienna and Lower Austria.

Several of those arrested were “linked to the shooter”, Mr Nehammer said.

Terrorism experts told The National that the Vienna attack appeared to be part of a carefully planned pre-lockdown strategy targeting Europe.

They said an ISIS plot cannot be ruled out and that the group is taking advantage of the focus on tackling the second coronavirus wave sweeping the continent.

On Thursday, three people died in France after a stabbing rampage at Nice’s Notre-Dame basilica.

The terrorist behind that attack, Brahim Aioussaoi, is believed to be an ISIS soldier who recently arrived in France from Tunisia.

Hans-Jakob Schindler, director of think tank the Counter Extremism Project, said the Vienna terrorist used a “window of opportunity” to target large crowds before the country went into lockdown.

He said: “The attacker used a firearm and seemed to have had a certain level of competency in using it.

“This requires training, in particular when using such a weapon in a highly stressful situation. Therefore, it seems very likely that the attacker had some – at least – paramilitary training.

“The problem is that after such a string of ‘successful’ terrorist operations in France, it is hard to distinguish whether other attacks are part of a wider plan or whether they are happening because radicalised individuals feel additionally motivated to do something in their area as well,” he added.

“However, what is clear is that the Vienna attacker and his potential accomplices have chosen the timing and the location for the attacks very smartly. The preparations, the procurement of weapons and ammunition and possible training, must have been planned for quite a while and last night presented a window of opportunity before the target environment would have become very depleted again due to the national lockdown.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pays his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna. AFP
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz pays his respects to the victims of a shooting in Vienna. AFP

Mr Kurz said the attacker was "well equipped with automatic weapons" and "prepared professionally”.

The Austrian leader vowed that the country would "defend our values, our way of living and our democracy" from extremists.

“This is not a struggle between Christians and Muslims, or between Austrians and migrants,” he said.

“It’s a struggle between the many who believe in peace, and the few who seek war. A struggle between civilisation and barbarism.”

Witnesses had earlier spoken of their horror as they watched Fejzulai kill random people in cold blood.

Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister was living in the compound of the synagogue as the attack unfolded.

He told London’s LBC radio: "Upon hearing shots, we looked down [from] the windows and saw the gunmen shooting at the guests of the various bars and pubs.

"The gunmen were running around and shooting at least 100 rounds or even more in front of our building. It was a terrible, terrible view.”

Police officers patrol the scene in Vienna. AP
Police officers patrol the scene in Vienna. AP

Monday's ordeal was reminiscent of another terrorist attack that occurred outside the same Vienna synagogue in 1981.

On that occasion, Palestinian terrorists attacked Jewish worshippers with hand grenades and automatic weapons, killing two people and injuring a further 18, including three children.

In 1985, there was another attack on the Jewish community by a Palestinian terrorist who killed two people at the ticket office for Israeli Airline El-Al at Vienna Airport.

Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch said it was unclear if the synagogue was targeted in Monday's attack because it was closed at the time.

Mr Deutsch told the Kurier newspaper that no members of Vienna’s Jewish community were injured in the attack.

Austrian soldiers guarded key sites in Vienna to free up police for the investigation.

Two of Austria's neighbours, Germany and the Czech Republic, also stepped up border checks in case any suspected attackers attempted to flee the country.

Mr Deutsch told the Kurier newspaper that no members of Vienna’s Jewish community were injured in the attack.

Austrian soldiers were guarding key sites in Vienna, freeing up police to continue their searches.

Two of Austria's neighbours, Germany and the Czech Republic, also stepped up border checks in case any suspected attackers attempted to flee the country.

Police officers were carrying out random checks on vehicles and passengers, Czech police said.

A policeman stands guard in Vienna. AFP
A policeman stands guard in Vienna. AFP

The attack drew swift condemnation and assurances of support from leaders around Europe, including from French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country has experienced three attacks in recent weeks.

Mr Macron said: “We French share the shock and sorrow of the Austrian people".

He referred to the Nice attack and the beheading of a school teacher by an extremist outside Paris days before.

“Our enemies must know with whom they are dealing,” he said. “We will not retreat. This is our Europe.”

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Monday night “these evil attacks against innocent people must stop”.

“Our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe,” he said.

“The US stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe was fighting a “common enemy” of Islamist terrorism.

Updated: November 4, 2020 11:15 AM

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