VIENNA — Gunmen opened fire on people enjoying a last night out at Vienna’s cafes and restaurants before a coronavirus lockdown Monday in what authorities said was a terrorist attack that left at least two dead — including one of the assailants — and 15 wounded.
“We are victims of a despicable terror attack in the federal capital that is still ongoing,” Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said hours after the gunfire erupted.
“One of the perpetrators was neutralized, but several perpetrators appear to still be on the loose,” he said. “They seem to also, as far as we know, be very well equipped, with automatic weapons. So they were very well prepared.”
Police said that several shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m. on a lively street in the city center and that there were six shooting locations. Unverified footage on social media showed gunmen walking through the streets, apparently shooting at people at random, wounding several.
The motive was under investigation, but Kurz said the possibility it was an anti-Semitic attack cannot be ruled out, given that the shooting began outside Vienna’s main synagogue. It was closed at the time.
Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said the army had been asked to guard key locations in the city as hundreds of heavily armed police hunted for the gunmen. He urged people in Vienna to stay indoors and avoid the city center and encouraged parents not to send their children to school on Tuesday.
Kurz praised police for killing one of the attackers and vowed: “We will not never allow ourselves to be intimidated by terrorism and will fight these attacks with all means.”
Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig said 15 people were hospitalized, seven with serious injuries.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of the Jewish community in Vienna, said it was not clear whether the main synagogue had been targeted.
Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one person shoot at people sitting outside at bars in the street below his window.
“They were shooting at least 100 rounds just outside our building,” Hofmeister said.
“All these bars have tables outside. This evening is the last evening before the lockdown,” he added. “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.”
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the French “share the shock and grief of the Austrian people hit by an attack tonight.”
“After France, this is a friendly country that has been attacked. This is our Europe. … We will not give in,” he wrote.
France has endured three attacks blamed on Muslim extremists in recent weeks: the wounding of two people outside satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s old headquarters; the beheading of a schoolteacher who showed students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad; and a deadly knife attack Thursday in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
All of the attacks were strongly condemned at the time by Austria’s chancellor.