A new terror attack… this time in Vienna
The TLDR: Gunmen armed with rifles opened fire in the heart of Vienna at six different locations—and at least one of them is still at large. So far, three have been confirmed dead, and 14 injured—and that toll is expected to rise. Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz is calling it a “despicable terror attack."
What happened here?
The story is still developing, but this is what we know so far:
The location: The attacks took place in the heart of Vienna in an area known as the “Bermuda Triangle”—a network of narrow streets packed with bars and restaurants. It is also home to Vienna’s biggest Jewish temple, the Seitenstettengasse synagogue—which is where the attack began. But it isn’t clear whether it was the target as it was closed at the time.
The timing: They took place at 8 pm, just before Vienna was scheduled to go into lockdown at midnight. Hence, the streets were filled with people. One of the eyewitnesses said: “We are in shock… It feels like they orchestrated this attack on the last night of the lockdown when lots of people were out for maximum impact.”
The attack: An unknown number of “suspects armed with rifles” opened fire in six different locations. They indiscriminately shot at people in the streets and buildings. One eyewitness said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street: "They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building.”
Clips of the unfolding scene were shared on social media, and they reveal chaos and carnage. According to the New York Times:
“One video showed people aiding a wounded person lying in a pool of blood, just outside a restaurant… Another video showed a man in civilian clothing emerging from a bar or restaurant, then firing a rifle twice down a street. Yet another video appeared to show the same gunman on the same street, shooting a man with a long gun at close range, then returning seconds later to shoot him twice more with a handgun.”
Note: We did not personally look for or watch any of these clips.
The attackers: The identity and the exact number remains unknown. But Chancellor Kurz called it a “repulsive terror attack”—which we presume refers to Islamic extremists but that remains to be confirmed. Kurz also said the men “were very well equipped with automatic weapons” and had “prepared professionally.” At least one of the attackers was shot dead by the police and he “was carrying an explosive belt and a bag filled with ammunition.”
The response: Authorities have launched a manhunt for the other attackers, and warned everyone to stay home. The Interior Minister told reporters: “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.” Meanwhile, the Czech police are conducting random checks on the border in case the attackers flee in that direction.
Wait, does Austria have a terrorism problem?
Unlike its neighbours France and Germany, Austria has been spared in recent years. But it has witnessed its share of terror attacks in the past:
- In 1975, an OPEC meeting was targeted by six men with submachine guns. They killed three people and took at least 60 hostages.
- In 1981, the leader of the Austrian Socialist party was assassinated outside his home by a member of a militant Palestinian group.
- Also in 1981: The Seitenstettengasse synagogue was attacked by two members of the Palestinian group Fatah—who killed two people and injured 21.
- In 1985, three gunmen stormed the check-in lounge at the airport, and opened fire with submachine guns, killing three and wounding dozens.
The most recent incident: In December, 2019, Austrian police foiled a plot by three Chechen ISIS sympathisers to target Vienna’s Christmas markets—and several other locations across Europe. Point to note: A relatively high number of Austrians have gone abroad to join Islamic extremist groups. And the country has often been “a logistics base” for attacks in neighbouring countries.
The bottomline: After a number of gruesome killings in France, European nations rallied to support President Emmanuel Macron—who has been the target of popular anger in Muslim nations like Turkey, Iraq etc. The reason: Macron’s government’s crackdown on “Islamic separatism” is viewed as a racist campaign against the country’s Muslim minority. The shocking attack in Austria—which has been exempt from such attacks—reveals that nations who supported France may now become a target, as well. And Macron further underlined that unity in his response:
"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.”
New York Times and BBC News have the most on the attack and its aftermath. Sky News has the most updated details. Daily Mail has the most photos. For the connection to France, read our explainer on the beheading a French school teacher—which also includes a reading list for France’s history with terrorism and its Muslim minority.