A special forces manhunt is underway after a shooting rampage by multiple gunmen on the streets of the Austrian capital Vienna near the city’s central synagogue.
Described by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as a “repulsive terrorist attack”, the attackers launched their horror on the streets of the old district of Vienna near the Danube on Monday about 8pm, as hundreds of citizens were enjoying a last night of freedom before a second COVID-19 lockdown.
Several “heavily armed and dangerous” attackers remained on the loose as police shut down and sealed off large parts of central Vienna in a manhunt, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said late on Monday.
Residents were urged to stay indoors.
“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,” Mr Nehammer told broadcaster ORF.
At the time of publication in Australia, Austrian police said investigations were continuing into the assault confirming one person was killed including one of the gunmen. Several people were injured, some in a critical condition in surrounding hospitals.
The BBC reported Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig confirming one of the victims was killed at the scene of the shootings while a second, a woman, died later in hospital from her wounds. It is believed 14 other people remain in hospital, six in a serious condition.
A police officer is among the injured, the interior ministry said.
Police also said they had shot dead one of the attackers.
Mr Nehammer said all six locations in the attack were in the immediate vicinity of the street housing the central synagogue.
Jewish community leader Oskar Deutsch said on Twitter it was not clear whether the Vienna synagogue and adjoining offices had been the target and that they were closed at the time.
“We are living in the compound of the synagogue. Upon hearing shots we looked down from the windows and saw the gunmen shooting at the guests of the various bars and pubs,” Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister told London’s LBC radio.
“The gunmen were running around and shooting at least 100 rounds or even more in front of our building.”
Videos circulated on social media of a gunman running down a cobblestone street shooting and shouting.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described what had happened as “a repulsive terrorist attack” and said the army would protect sites in the capital so the police could focus on anti-terror operations.
The attack happened hours before a partial lockdown due rising coronavirus spread, with restaurants, cafes and hotels shuttered and restrictions on movement at night.
Authorities gave no indication of the identity of the assailants or reason for the attack.
Leaders condemn attack
President Emmanuel Macron of France, which has seen deadly knife attacks in Paris and Nice with suspected Islamist motives in recent weeks, issued a statement expressing shock and sorrow.
“We, French, share the shock and sadness of the Austrians after an attack in Vienna. After France, it is a friendly country that is under attack. This is our Europe. Our enemies need to know who they are dealing with. We won’t give in to anything,” he wrote.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also expressed his deep shock. “The UK’s thoughts are with the people of Austria – we stand united with you against terror,” he wrote on Twitter.
Canada’s Justin Trudeau described the shooting as “horrific and heartbreaking”. “We condemn in the strongest terms possible this act of terrorism. Our thoughts are with the people of Austria and everyone affected by this deplorable act.”
In 1981, two people were killed and 18 injured during an attack by two Palestinians at the same Vienna synagogue.
Mr Kurz said the Army would protect sites in the capital so police could focus on anti-terror operations.
“We are currently experiencing difficult hours in our republic,” Mr Kurz wrote on Twitter.
“I would like to thank all the emergency forces who are risking their lives for our safety, especially today.
“Our police will take decisive action against the perpetrators of this repulsive terrorist attack.”