Vienna grapples with a night of fear, and Austria announces days of national mourning.
Austria was grappling on Tuesday with a brutal attack in which a gunman, whom officials described as an ISIS sympathizer and who was wearing a fake explosive device, opened fire on Monday night in the heart of Vienna, the capital, killing at least four people.
By Tuesday morning, around 1,000 police officers had fanned out across city to patrol the streets. Leaders were providing new details in addresses to the nation, and an anxious public, largely confined to their homes amid a new coronavirus lockdown, waited for answers.
But some details about the violence the night before, and its perpetrator, remained unclear.
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an address to the nation on Tuesday morning that the shooting was “definitely an Islamist terrorist attack,” which he called “an attack out of hatred, hatred for our basic values.”
“We often see ourselves as a blessed island where violence and terror is only known from abroad,” he said. “But the sad truth is: Even if we live in a generally safe country, we don’t live in a safe world.”
The police killed a gunman, whom Interior Minister Karl Nehammer described as an Islamic State “sympathizer” at a news conference on Tuesday morning. He did not reveal the man’s name, but said the police had searched his apartment.
The police appeared to suggest that the man had acted alone, though the authorities had previously said that there were multiple attackers.
Austria’s government announced a three-day official mourning period beginning Tuesday, in which flags on public buildings will be lowered to half-staff and a minute’s silence will be held at noon.
On Tuesday morning, Harald Sörös, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said that a second woman had died of her injuries, bringing the number of victims to four. Fourteen people were injured, six of them seriously, he said.
The attack came hours before the country entered a lockdown to combat the coronavirus, with many people having gathered outdoors in Vienna before it came into force. Hundreds of others were trapped in the city’s famed opera house and the national theater, both of which were evacuated by the police hours after the curtains had fallen.
“You could feel a lot of people wanted to get out one more time before lockdown starts,” said Ameli Pietsch, 23, who was in the area an hour before the attack. “It was a mild evening, and lots of people were outside.”
All of that changed in a moment. People scrambled from the streets to shelter in restaurants, and all trams and subways in the city’s center were halted as the police urged residents to shelter in place.
The sound of sirens and helicopters filled the night air as people struggled to absorb what was happening.
Said Farnaz Alavi, 34, a human resources consultant in Vienna, “We are in shock.”
With the target unclear, the authorities discouraged speculation.
The area where shots were first reported is a tight web of streets packed with bars and pubs, known locally as the “Bermuda Triangle.” It is also home to Vienna’s main temple, the Seitenstettengasse synagogue. But the attack’s intended target, or targets, was unclear.
The president of the Jewish Religious Community in Austria, Oskar Deutsch, said on Twitter that the initial shooting had occurred “in the immediate vicinity” of the temple, but that it was closed at the time.
“It is not clear right now whether the main temple was the target,” he said.
The police took to Twitter to urge restraint.
“Please don’t share any rumors, accusations, speculations or unconfirmed numbers of victims,” they said. “That does not help at all! Stay inside, take shelter. Keep away from public places.”
As news of the attack unfolded, several people posted dramatic videos on social media of what appeared to be the shooting and its aftermath.
One showed people helping a wounded person who was lying in a pool of blood, just outside a restaurant on Ruprechtsplatz and less than a mile from the Austrian Parliament. Several chairs in the restaurant’s outdoor area had been overturned, as if abandoned in a hurry.
Another video showed a man emerging from a bar or restaurant, then firing a rifle twice down a street. And a separate video appeared to show the same gunman on the same street, shooting a man with a long gun at close range, then returning seconds later to shoot him twice more.
The Vienna police, in a post on Twitter, pleaded with witnesses not to post videos and pictures to social media, but instead to send them to the authorities.
The city has found itself in the cross hairs before.
Austria — and Vienna in particular — has been a target over the years for terrorist attacks, often with deadly outcomes. Religious and political tensions, sometimes with no clear connection to Austria, have led to sporadic violence.
In 1975, a meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in the city was stormed by six men with submachine guns. They killed three people and took at least 60 hostages.
A group that claimed responsibility cast the attack as “an act of political contestation and information” aimed at “the alliance between American imperialism and the capitulating reactionary forces in the Arab homeland.”
In 1981, Heinz Nittel, a leader of the Austrian Socialist party and head of the Austria-Israel Friendship Society, was assassinated outside his home by an assailant associated with a militant Palestinian group.
Two people were killed in 1981 when terrorists attacked a synagogue with grenades and firearms. Just after Christmas in 1985, panic engulfed the Vienna airport when three gunmen stormed the check-in lounge and opened fire with submachine guns, killing three and wounding dozens.
Witnesses at the time said the attack began as an El Al Israel Airlines flight was boarding. The attack appeared to be coordinated with another El Al check-in 10 minutes earlier in Rome.
From 1993 to 1997, a series of mail bombs and other explosive devices, including one that wounded the mayor of Vienna, stoked fears of rising neo-Nazi terrorism in the country. The man who was convicted in the attacks said that his goal had been to create a reunification of German-speaking areas.
Melissa Eddy, Christopher F. Schuetze and Katrin Bennhold reported from Berlin, and Megan Specia from London. Reporting was contributed by Christoph Koettl, Farnaz Fassihi and Emmett Lindner from New York; Livia Albeck-Ripka from Darwin, Australia; and Joe Ritchie from Hong Kong.