An Islamic State sympathiser led a terrorist shooting attack on Vienna on Monday night, killing at least three people, authorities have said, as Austrian police searched for accomplices that might still be at large.
A series of shooting in Vienna’s city centre left two women and one man dead. One attacker was killed by police. Twelve hours after the assault, it is unclear if the man acted alone, or how many other terrorists were involved.
Fifteen people – including at least one police officer – were seriously injured in exchanges of gunfire, which broke out at 8pm. Seven victims were reported to be in critical condition.
Police were trawling through more than 20,000 videos given to authorities by members of the public to determine how many assailants were involved and the exact course of events.
Initially, police said the shootings took place in six locations in Vienna’s 1st district near the Danube Canal, and warned of a group of “heavily armed and dangerous” gunmen. But by Tuesday morning police were not certain how many attackers were involved.
“At the moment we think there’s more, we’re investigating,” Vienna police chief Gerhard Pürstl said.
“It’s difficult to say for sure if it was one or several attackers. Lots of witnesses are injured, traumatised, and we have to analyse the data.
“This will take some time … at this stage there is no definite answer.”
Border checks have been increased to neighbouring countries.
Vienna’s director general for public security, Franz Ruf, said authorities had worked overnight to identify the slain attacker. The attacker was shot dead outside St Rupert’s church, his body strung with a fake explosives vest and a bag of ammunition.
“The home of the violent attacker was searched,” he said, but he said authorities would not release details of the dead attacker for fear of jeopardising an ongoing investigation.
Ruf said video footage of the incidents would help police piece together the exact sequence of events: “20,000 videos were uploaded and given to us, and we have already searched 20% of this content,” he said.
Asked whether the shootings were motivated by Islamist extremism or by anti-semitism, Ruf said: “It is clear that this was a radicalised person, further than that, we can’t say anything as we’re still investigating.”
Austria’s interior minister, Karl Nehammer, confirmed authorities were treating the shootings as a terrorist attack and said the gunman was an Islamic State sympathiser.
“We have experienced an attack from an Islamist terrorist,” he told a news conference early on Tuesday.
“Austria is a democracy, shaped by free speech, tolerance in living together,” he said. “The attack yesterday is an attack of these values and an inadequate attempt to divide us. We will not stand for this. There will be consequences.”
The attack began just hours before Austria was due to introduce new coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew from midnight to 6am, and bars and restaurants in the network of narrow streets known to locals as the “Bermuda triangle” were packed.
Shooting first broke out at around 8pm on Seitenstettengasse street in the centre of the city but spread out to what police said were six different locations in the vicinity.
A witness said a gunman had started to fire at random at groups of people sitting at tables.
“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said. He told reporters he saw, from his window above Vienna’s main synagogue, at least one person shooting at people sitting outside in the street.
“All these bars have tables outside. This evening is the last evening before the lockdown,” he said. “As of midnight, all bars and restaurants will be closed in Austria for the next month, and a lot of people probably wanted to use that evening to be able to go out.”
Footage purportedly showing the attack and shared by European counter-terrorism showed a man carrying a rifle and wearing a white shirt and beige trousers firing shots towards a building. A male voice can be heard shouting “Asshole, motherfucker” at the attacker from one of the buildings.
Police repeatedly appealed for witnesses to refrain from sharing photographs or video from the scene after footage which appeared to show an injured policeman was briefly posted on Twitter.
Initial reports had suggested that the nearby Stadttempel synagogue could have been the target of the attack.
But Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community Vienna, said the synagogue on Seitenstettengasse and the office building at the same address were already closed at the time of the attack, and it was “unclear” if it was one of the targets of the attack.
Austrian chancellor Kurz condemned the “repulsive terror attack”, as European leaders expressed their solidarity.