At least two people were killed and 15 others “seriously” wounded after several suspects armed with rifles opened fire in six locations across Vienna, Austrian police said.
“We are victims of a despicable terror attack in the federal capital that is still ongoing,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Monday evening.
“One of the perpetrators was neutralized, but several perpetrators appear to still be on the loose. They seem to also, as far as we know, be very well equipped, with automatic weapons. So they were very well prepared.”
In a series of tweets, police in the Austrian capital confirmed that around 8 p.m. local time several shots were fired across the city, starting in the Seitenstettengass area where the city’s main synagogue is located. Authorities said “several perpetrators with long guns (rifle)” were responsible for the attack, which involved six crime scenes.
A spokesman for the local hospital association said at least 15 people were injured in the shooting, though their conditions were not immediately clear.
Amid the chaos across the Austrian capital, authorities stopped all public transportation into the city’s first district—where the incident occurred—until further notice.
“Several shots fired in the central district of Vienna - there are injured people - Do not stay in public areas! Stay home!” police tweeted. “Again: DO NOT post videos and photos in social media, this endangers both emergency services and the civilian population!”
The shooting occurred just hours before Vienna was set to start its national lockdown at midnight to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are currently going through difficult times in our republic. I would like to thank all the emergency services who risk their lives, especially today for our safety. Our police will take decisive action against the perpetrators of this hideous terrorist attack,” Kurz tweeted shortly after the attack. “We will never allow ourselves to be intimidated by terrorism and will fight these attacks resolutely by all means.”
Police have not confirmed the circumstances of the incident but did reveal that the start of the seemingly coordinated attack began near the Seitenstettengasse synagogue. Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish Religious Community in Austria, said on Twitter that the shooting occurred “in the immediate vicinity” of the house of worship, which was already closed for the evening. According to the Associated Press, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported that witnesses said the shots were fired shortly after 8 p.m.
“It is not clear right now whether the main temple was the target,” Deutsch wrote, before asking residents to not spread misinformation and stay indoors.
Despite pleas from authorities not to post videos or photos of the attack on social media, several witnesses shared dramatic footage from the center of the city.
In one video, people can be seen helping a person who appears to be wounded and lying in blood outside a restaurant near several overturned chairs. In another video, a man walks out of a bar and then fires several shots down the street.
Other videos show residents running for cover or hiding behind objects as gunfire echoes through the streets. In an interview with the AP, Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister said he saw at least one suspect shoot at people who were sitting in an outdoor bar 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.”
The New York Times reported officials have described the Monday night incident as a chaotic scene after several “exchanges of shots.” On Twitter, authorities also urged residents to restraint from spreading unconfirmed reports about the number of victims, adding, “That does not help at all! Stay inside, take shelter, Keep away from public places.”
Pamela Rendi-Wagner, chairwoman of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, also called the Monday night incident an act of terror on the city set to remain in lockdown until the end of November.
“I am deeply shaken, stunned and appalled by this horrific terrorist attack in downtown Vienna,” the chairwoman tweeted. “Please follow the instructions of the police and be careful.”