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Vienna shooter identified as IS extremist as Austria mourns

Austrian police said Tuesday that a deadly shooting rampage in Vienna had been carried out by a known Islamic extremist who had spent time in prison, as the country mourned the victims of its first major terror attack in decades.

Four people were killed during the assault on Monday night that saw Kujtim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old Islamic State group sympathiser, open fire with a Kalashnikov in a busy area of the historic Austrian capital.

After shooting him dead, security forces swooped on 18 different addresses and made 14 arrests as they looked for possible accomplices and sought to determine if Fejzulai had acted alone.

After reviewing CCTV footage of the shooting spree, which took place in an area teaming with bars and restaurants not far from the historic sights of central Vienna, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said the video “does not at this time show any evidence of a second attacker”.

On Fejzulai’s computer, investigators found incriminating evidence including a photograph recently posted on Facebook showing him carrying the automatic weapon and a machete used during the attack. When he was shot dead, police found him wearing a fake explosive belt.

– ‘Repulsive’ attack –

In a televised address on the first day of a new national coronavirus lockdown, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz condemned a “repulsive terror attack” and said the deceased were “an older man, an older woman, a young passer-by and a waitress.”

His government will face questions about how an individual known to security forces had been able to buy weapons and cause havoc on the streets of the capital, which was packed with people ahead of the lockdown.

The investigation immediately spanned several countries, with Switzerland making several arrests in connection and Macedonia, where Fejzulai has family roots, cooperating with Austrian authorities.

The attack came after several Islamist atrocities in France, including an assault on churchgoers in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

The recent re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in France has caused new tensions worldwide, sparking protests in some Muslim-majority countries and calls from several terror groups for their followers to take vengeance.

Britain on Tuesday upgraded its terrorism threat level from “substantial” to “severe”.

– Former convict –

Nehammer said Fejzulai had been convicted of a terror offence in April last year for trying to travel to Syria.

The dual Austrian and Macedonian national had then been admitted to a government-funded de-radicalisation programme and had managed to secure an early release from a 22-month prison sentence in December.

“The perpetrator managed to fool the de-radicalisation programme of the justice system, to fool the people in it, and to get an early release,” Nehammer said.

“It was clear that the attacker, despite all the outward signs of having integrated into society, did exactly the opposite,” the minister added.

A large swathe of central Vienna was cordoned off on Tuesday around the location of the shootings as police combed the area for additional clues.

– Flags lowered –

The small Alpine nation of nine million people had until now been spared the sort of major attacks that have hit other European countries such as France, Germany and Britain in the last decade.

The last significant attacks date back to the 1970s and 1980s and were carried out by pro-Palestinian militants.

“This isn’t Berlin and it isn’t Paris. We’re perhaps a big city but nothing really bad ever happens here,” said Sharut Gunduz, a receptionist at a hotel on the edge of the area cordoned off by police on Tuesday.

The bloodshed triggered an outpouring of solidarity from world leaders with French President Emmanuel Macron saying the French shared the “shock and sorrow” of the Austrian people.

Across the country, flags have been lowered to half mast on public buildings and people observed a minute of silence at noon as church bells rang out in remembrance.

Kurz, President Van der Bellen and other officials took part in a wreath-laying ceremony in honour of the victims.

– ‘Sounded like firecrackers’ –

A total of 22 people were brought to Vienna hospitals over the course of the night with injuries from the attack, 14 with serious wounds and three in a critical but stable condition.

Police said an officer was among those hurt.

The first shots were heard at around 8 pm (1900 GMT).

“It sounded like firecrackers, then we realised it was shots,” said one witness quoted by public broadcaster ORF.

Another spoke of at least 50 shots being fired as police locked down the area.

Germany joined the Czech Republic in stepping up checks at their borders in order to stop possible accomplices.

“The fight against these assassins and those who instigate them is our common struggle,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel.