Police shot and killed one of the suspects, who authorities said was an Islamist terrorist.
At least four victims were killed and 15 others injured in a series of shootings that started near the Stadttempel synagogue in central Vienna on Monday night, which Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said were connected to the Islamic State terror group.
The shooting began at about 8 p.m. local time at six different locations by multiple gunmen armed with rifles, according to local authorities. Police shot and killed one of the suspects, whom authorities later described as an Islamic terrorist, who was wearing a fake explosive belt.
Officials believe there could be at least one person still on the run, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said in a press conference early Tuesday morning, urging people to stay home as much as possible as police investigations continue. Schools will remain open, though Nehammer said children will not be obliged to attend.
Nehammer said the attack was an “assault” on Austria’s values and “an utterly inept attempt to weaken or divide our democratic society,” but added: “We will not let this happen.”
In comments released Tuesday morning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “In these terrible hours when Vienna has become the target of terrorist violence, my thoughts are with the people there and the security forces facing the danger. We Germans stand by our Austrian friends in sympathy and solidarity. The fight against Islamist terror is our common fight.”
Investigators have searched the home of the dead suspect, whom Nehammer described as a sympathizer of the Islamic State terrorist group.
At a prior press conference Monday, Nehammer described it as the “most difficult day Austria has had in many years.” The director general for public security, Franz Ruf, also said Austria would step up its border controls.
“We are currently experiencing difficult hours in our republic,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Twitter. “Our police will pursue the perpetrators of this despicable terror attack with all determination.”
“I am happy that our police have already managed to neutralize one of the perpetrators. We will never be intimidated by terrorism and will resolutely fight these attacks with all measures.”
Earlier, Nehammer said in an interview with public broadcaster ORF that several heavily armed perpetrators were still active in the city center.
“We continue to be in the midst of a fight against suspected terrorists,” Nehammer said, adding: “We are assuming several perpetrators, heavily armed and dangerous.”
Kurz also said the government had decided to hand over protection efforts to the army so “the police can concentrate on the fight against terrorism.”
Mayor Michael Ludwig said seven of those in hospital were seriously injured.
The head of the Jewish Community of Vienna, Oskar Deutsch, said it was unclear if the synagogue was the target as the temple and its offices were closed at the time of the shooting. Nevertheless, he said all community members were advised to remain indoors until getting the all-clear from authorities. Deutsch said all synagogues, Jewish schools and community institutions, kosher restaurants and supermarkets will be closed Tuesday as a precaution.
Viennese police on Twitter warned locals to stay away from public places and public transport.
Monday was the last night before Austria’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown began, and some people had taken their final opportunity to go out to restaurants, bars and other venues, with the area where the shootings were carried out known for its nightlife. Many people were trapped inside venues in the city center.
Police warned people not to spread rumors online or share videos of the events on social media as it could endanger their ongoing operation.
“We are all deeply affected by the suspected terrorist attack in central Vienna,” Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen tweeted. He added: “We will defend our freedom and democracy together and resolutely by all means necessary.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, whose country is still reeling after recent deadly attacks at a church and against a teacher, tweeted in German that “We, French people, share in the shock and sorrow of Austrians after an attack in Vienna. After France, another friendly country has been attacked. This is our Europe. Our enemies must know who they are dealing with. We will not give up.”
European Council President Charles Michel tweeted support for Kurz and said, “Europe strongly condemns this cowardly act that violates life and our human values. My thoughts are with the victims and the people of #Vienna in the wake of tonight’s horrific attack.”
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also voiced support for Austria, tweeting: “I am shocked and saddened by the brutal attack that took place in Vienna. My thoughts are with the families of the victims and the Austrian people. Europe stands in full solidarity with Austria. We are stronger than hatred and terror.”
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described the attack on Twitter as a “cowardly act of violence and hate.”
In the U.S., both incumbent President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden commented on the attacks.
“Our prayers are with the people of Vienna after yet another vile act of terrorism in Europe. These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists,” Trump tweeted.
“After tonight’s horrific terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria, Jill and I are keeping the victims and their families in our prayers,” Biden said, referring to his wife. “We must all stand united against hate and violence.”