Vienna Terror Attack (2nd November 2020) and UK’s Terrorism Threat Level Upgraded to SEVERE
A lone gunman attacked six locations in central Vienna on Monday evening, starting outside the main synagogue. Witnesses described the man firing into crowds in bars with automatic rifles, as many people took advantage of the last evening before a nationwide curfew was introduced because of COVID-19. Police confirmed on Tuesday that four civilians were killed in the attacks – two men and two woman – with 23 others wounded, including a police officer.
Austrian police were initially hunting for several assailants, but subsequently announced that there was only one gunman who was shot dead by police as he fired on passers-by.
Austrian authorities named the gunman as a Kujtim Fejzulai, an “Islamist terrorist” who had been jailed for 22 months in April 2019 for trying to travel to Syria to join IS jihadists. He was released early in December under more lenient terms for young adults, after convincing the authorities that he no longer held extremist Islamist views. Originally from North Macedonia, Fejzulai had both Austrian and Macedonian citizenship. He had posted a photo on a social media, showing himself with weapons, before the attack. Police searched Fejzulai’s home and seized video material. As well as being heavily armed, he was wearing a fake explosive belt.
The gunman opened fire with a shortened Kalashnikov assault rifle, but was also armed with a machete and a pistol. Police sealed off much of the historic centre of Vienna, urging the public to shelter in place. Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport throughout the old town was shut down and police scoured the city.
Whilst it is unclear if the gunman was intending to target the Jewish community, it is possible that having noted that the synagogue was closed and secure, he decided to rain his terror on anyone in the area. Significantly, previous attacks on synagogues such as the synagogue in Halle, Germany demonstrates that even automatic machine gunfire could not immediately break through robust wooden doors, and this may have been a factor in the incident, given that the Stadttempel synagogue is protected by heavy wooden doors, and may also have appeared to be empty of people at the time of the attack.