The Austrian capital remains on high alert following the incident, which saw gunmen open fire at six locations, killing at least one person and injuring 15, including a police officer. One attacker was also killed by police.
The shooting has been described by the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz as a “hideous terrorist attack.”
Armed forces have been deployed in Vienna to help secure the situation, as at least one gunman remains on the loose. “It is of course a very tense security situation,” Kurz said.
Authorities have warned that the gunmen are “heavily armed” and have asked the public to stay at home or in a safe place and follow the news.
“Whether it is possible to take up public life as normal tomorrow morning, that will very much depend on tonight and whether it is possible to catch or eliminate the suspects,” Kurz said.
Speaking on Austrian public broadcaster ORF, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said several suspects had assault rifles. “We are still in battle against the would-be terrorists,” he said.
The initial attack, which began around 8 p.m., was centered on the busy shopping and dining district near Vienna’s main synagogue, Seitenstettengasse Temple, which was closed.
Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig said the gunmen appeared to shoot at random, as people dined and drank outside due to the warm weather and virus concerns. A nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was set to begin at midnight.
It is not known how many shooters there were in total, or what motivated the attack. The intended target of the attack also remains unclear and authorities have so far discouraged speculation as to the attackers’ potential motive.
Julia Hiermann, who lives in Vienna, was having drinks with a friend when the shooting began.
Restaurant staff told everyone to hide in the basement, she told CNN over the phone. There she and others were told that gunmen were shooting outside. Hiermann said she did not see or hear the attackers.
The police later came inside the restaurant and told diners that “we have to stay inside and wait here,” she said. “This seems unimaginable. When they said shots fired I didn’t think this was serious,” she said.
Reaction to the attack
Footage shared on social media of the shooting shows a chaotic situation, with people fleeing from the scene in all directions on foot.
Inside the Vienna Burgtheater, artistic director Martin Kusej took to the stage to announce there had been an incident nearby, while advising opera attendees to stay inside the theater.
In the aftermath, armed police quickly swarmed the area, with helicopters and ambulances deployed. Police could be seen patrolling the city center, ordering people to stay inside bars and restaurants. Other areas of the city were also cordoned off while police conducted checks on cars.
Authorities are still working to establish a potential motive, but Kurz told ORF that antisemitism could not be excluded, due to the attack’s proximity to the city’s synagogue.
Oskar Deutsch, the head of Vienna’s Jewish community, said in a tweet that it was unclear whether the synagogue was a target, but that it was closed at the time of the shooting.
All synagogues, Jewish schools, the institutions of the IKG (Jewish Community of Vienna), and kosher restaurants and supermarkets in Vienna will be closed on Tuesday as a precaution, Deutsch said.
Authorities have since taken to social media to request that the public refrain from sharing “rumors, accusations, speculations or unconfirmed numbers of victims.”
In a press conference in the early hours of Tuesday, Nehammer said it was “the hardest day for Austria for many years,” adding that “those who attack one of us, attacks all of us.”
Across Europe, leaders have strongly condemned the shooting, which follows two terror attacks in France in recent weeks.
“After France, it is a friendly country that is under attack,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter.
“Europe strongly condemns this cowardly act that violates life and our human values,” the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, said on Twitter.
Other leaders have shared statements expressing their shock and sorrow, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
Stephanie Halasz and Tim Lister contributed to this report.