November 2020International News2020Europe

Vienna Terrorist Attack Claims Five Lives, ISIS Claims Responsibility 

Kiara McGaughey
Staff Writer

On November 3, shots were fired around the area of Seitenstettengasse Temple, one of Vienna’s main synagogues. Fejzulai Kujtim, the gunman, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), who have since claimed responsibility for the attack. Local police believe that the gunman acted alone, although 14 individuals believed to have been involved in the attacks and having ties to Kujtim were taken into custody. Austrian officials have  deployed armed police and have asked citizens across the capital to stay in their homes.

The attacks took place in six locations centered around Seitenstettengasse Temple, with the first initial attack happening at 8 p.m.  Fejzulai Kujtim, had apparently started firing shots near the synagogue and then proceeded to shoot into the nearby bars, cafes, and restaurants, according to NPR. Bystanders described him as shooting bursts randomly while walking down the streets. Many had been eating outside due to regulations imposed as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, which explained the high number of injured people.  Police shot dead the gunman during the rampage.

It is unclear whether the attack was specifically targeted against the Jewish community in the area or aimed at the synagogue, the head of Vienna’s Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, explained. He further expressed his relief that the synagogue was closed during the attack. Austrian officials took precautions and closed all Jewish schools, synagogues, Jewish Community of Vienna institutions, and Kosher supermarkets and restaurants the next day, according to the BBC.

The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack in a statement where they showed praise for Kujtim’s actions, The Times of Israel reports. Kujtim had reportedly been arrested before for attempting to join ISIS  but was released on bail in 2019. Kujtim was an Austrian-Macedonian dual-citizen, who had been sent back to Austria following his arrest for trying to flee to Syria. The afternoon prior to the attack, Kujtim posted a photo to his Instagram where he was seen holding weapons and pledging allegiance to The Islamic State’s caliph, according to .

The Austrian government admitted that they did not handle the attack as well as they should have. They recognized that they failed to properly document a warning from Slovak authorities about a man of Austrian citizenship attempting to buy weapons in Slovakia. The government stated that there was an error in communication between Austrian and Slovak authorities on the matter and that they should have heeded the warning, The BBC reports.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an address that the attacks were perpetrated by an extremist group and that they did not reflect the majority of Austria’s Muslim population or Austria’s immigrant population. He further stated, “We all know in our country this is not a fight between Christians or Muslims or Austrians and people from other countries,” according to CNN. Many of the victims of the attack were Muslim. Additionally, many Austrian civilians and other Austrian officials shared the sentiment that Kurz had expressed, describing that many Muslim families lost loved ones in the attack, an article by The BBC states. Austrian officials also praised two Austrian-Turkish men who aided a police officer and two women during the attack, Al Jazeera reports.

Chancellor Kurz also called for the entire European Union to take stronger actions against political Islam in the future, according to BBC News. He asserted that Austria will be working closely with France, who has also been the victim of multiple terror attacks recently, to deter the ideology of political Islam from attacking the European way of life and the freedom of all Europeans. Member of European Parliament, Antonio Tajani, renewed his call for a European FBI to “co-ordinate the work of police and intelligence services, working in tandem against IS militants,” The BCC further asserts.

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