Gunmen opened fire on a busy street in Vienna, Austria, late on Monday as residents enjoyed the final night out before the city enters a partial coronavirus lockdown.
Two men and one woman were killed and 15 injured, the authorities said early Tuesday, while several gunmen could still be at large. At least one of the perpetrators was shot and killed by police.
Speaking as the attacks were still underway, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz described the incident as “a despicable terror attack.”
“One of the perpetrators was neutralized, but several perpetrators appear to still be on the loose,” Kurz said.
“They seem to also, as far as we know, be very well equipped, with automatic weapons. So they were very well prepared.”
A witness to the attack, Eveline, told AP that she and others had taken refuge in a local hotel.
“Suddenly the shooting started, at first we did not know what it was … Then there was shooting again, but closer, so we started to run away,” she said.
What do we know about the attack?
It began at just after 8 pm CET on Monday night in a street close to Vienna’s main synagogue and speaking Monday Kurz said that the attackers may have had anti-semitic motives.
Oskar Deutsch, a Jewish community leader, said it was too early to say whether the temple was one of the targets but confirmed there had been “a shooting in the immediate vicinity of the city temple.”
Deutsch said that both the synagogue in Seitenstettengasse and an office building at the same address were closed at the time of the attack.
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said that the army was guarding key locations in the city as hundreds of police hunted for the remaining gunmen.
Nehammer told people in Vienna to stay indoors and avoid the city centre and encouraged parents not to send their children to school on Tuesday.
He also said that the attacker killed on Monday night had sympathies with the Islamic State, the terrorist group that has carried out a number of attacks in Europe and worldwide over the last six years.
The attack has echoes of those in London in 2017 and Paris in 2015 when attackers roamed the streets of the two cities armed with knives and guns, killing maiming civilians in restaurants and bars.
What have we heard from the scene?
Vienna’s Chief Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister told broadcaster LBC in a radio interview that he was in the Seitenstettengasse synagogue’s compound and saw multiple gunmen firing into bars and restaurants.
“The gunmen were running around, shooting at least 100 rounds or even more, in front of our building,” he added.
He said he “doubted it was an attack on the synagogue, adding: “At this time of night there is no activity taking place in the great synagogue, we don’t really know, however, what’s going on.”
Police asked social media users not to share photos or videos that purported to show the incident because it “endangers both emergency services and the civilian population”.
In videos shared on social media, people were pictured running as what appeared to be gunshots could be heard.
Czech police said Monday evening that they were “carrying out random checks on vehicles and passengers” at the country’s border with Austria after the attack.
“Police officers exercise increased supervision over the most important Jewish buildings in the Czech Republic,” the force added in a tweet. “We assure the public that the measures taken are exclusively preventive in nature.”
“Europe strongly condemns this cowardly act that violates life and our human values,” President of the European Council Charles Michel wrote on Twitter.
“I am deeply shocked by the terrible attacks in Vienna tonight. The UK’s thoughts are with the people of Austria – we stand united with you against terror,” said UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“Terrifying, disturbing reports reach us this evening. Even if the extent of the terror is not yet known, our thoughts are with the injured and victims in these difficult hours. We must not give way to the hatred that is intended to divide our societies,” the German foreign ministry said in a tweet.
“We the French share the shock and grief of the Austrian people,” French President Emmanuel Macron wrote. “After France, an ally country has been attacked. This is our Europe. Our enemies must know who they are dealing with. We will not give up.”
France on has been struck by two Islamist attacks in a matter of weeks; a knifeman killed three people last week at a church in Nice and on October 16 a French teacher, Samuel Paty, was beheaded after showing cartoons depicting Islam’s prophet in a class on freedom of speech.