Convicted Terrorist Kills 4 In Austria; Watched By Intelligence Agencies
November 2nd 2020, 8pm local time
As people tried to enjoy their last night before a curfew went into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an Islamist terrorist attack targeting six locations in Vienna, Austria killed four people and injured over twenty others. Within minutes, police officers shot and killed one assailant and the attack came to a halt. Police sealed off most of Vienna and urged the public to shelter in place. Public transport was shut down and police scoured the city searching for any accomplices.
In the hours following the attack, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer made it clear that at least one other suspect connected to the attack was at large. Nehammer said, “According to what we currently know, at least one perpetrator is still on the run.” It remains unclear why Nehammer was convinced of a secondary suspect linked to the attack at this stage of the investigation. The possibility of additional suspects persisted into the next morning when Austrian Chancellor Kurz declared, “ We will find and hunt down the perpetrators, those behind this and their associates and mete out a just sentence. And we will pursue all those who have anything to do with this outrage with all available means.”
That day, Austrian police raided 18 properties and arrested 14 people in a massive manhunt. According to Interior Minister Nehammer all of those arrested in Austria have a migration background. Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl added that some were dual citizens of Bangladesh, North Macedonia, Turkey or Russia. Additionally, four of the suspects arrested in Austria following the attack also have criminal convictions for terrorism-related offences. Two of those terror convictions involved attempted ‘honour killings’ — whereby a Muslim kills a member of a family over a percieved shame or dishonor brought upon the family.
Meanwhile, police in Switzerland arrested two men near Zurich with links to the attack in Austria. According to a report, the suspects, aged 18 and 24, were arrested in the city of Winterthur and are citizens of Switzerland. According to reports, the justice minister said the two were friends with the gunman and attended a meeting with him in Vienna in July.
The deceased gunman was identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, age 20, with dual North Macedonian and Austrian nationality. A man identified as Fejzulai’s grandfather told a local television channel in North Macedonia that his grandson would visit his ancestral home, the tiny mountain village of Cellopek, every year.
The terrorist organization Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in Vienna through its Amaq News Agency.
Additionally, a picture was published on Telegram of Kujtim Fejzulai identified as “Abu Dagnah Al-Albany”. Albany would normally be used to refer to someone with Albanian origins.
IS’ Amaq News Agency also posted a video of Albany in which he pledged his allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi. He was speaking Arabic in the video.
By age 18, Fejzulai was known to Austrian intelligence agencies initially because he was one of ninety Austrian citizens who had attempted to travel to Syria to fight with the Islamic State in their war against the Syrian government. Fejzulai attempted to cross the border from Turkey into Syria in 2018 but was deported back to Austria. Fejzulai was sentenced to 22 months in prison in April 2019 for being a member of a terrorist organization. Shockingly, due to his age, it was revealed that Fejzulai had been released from jail less than one year before the deadly attack after serving only eight months of a 22-month sentence. “He was released early exactly because he gave the impression that he had engaged with deradicalisation programmes and was prepared to integrate himself into society,” Nehammer told a news conference.
According to reports, little is known about his life after that, except that he took part in a de-radicalisation program, which was still ongoing when he launched his attack.
It was revealed that, in July 2020, Slovakian intelligence had provided information to Austrian intelligence that Kujtim Fejzulai attempted to purchase ammunition but was unsuccessful. After receiving the tip from Slovakia, Austrian intelligence reportedly conducted ‘necessary checks’ and followed up with Slovakian intelligence.
Months before the attack, Austrian law enforcement conducted surveillance on Fejzulai for days and witnessed him meet with foreign Islamists in Vienna before inexplicably stopping their surveillance within days.
It was revealed that there was a connection between the attack and people in Germany who are currently “monitored around the clock” following the attack. The suspects in Germany had stayed in Austria in July and met Fejzulai in Vienna. Austrian intelligence monitored the meeting and Fejzulai for days, observing how he and acquaintances picked up the four visitors from Germany and Switzerland at Vienna airport and showed them around the city. “A meeting took place in Vienna among the people you addressed from Germany and Switzerland but there were also people present at the meeting with the later assailant who were arrested in the context of the investigation,” said Director General for Public Security Franz Ruf.
Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl said, “These facts together with the findings that emerged from the information from Slovakia could have led to a different outcome regarding the assessment of the threat posed by the perpetrator.” But Austrian intelligence allegedly broke off their operation just as Fejzulai travelled to Slovakia. Why that operation was halted is unclear.
Following the revelations, Nehammer called for the formation of an independent commission to examine the errors made preventing Austrian intelligence from preventing the attack. “It’s up to the commission to clarify whether the process went optimally and in line with the law,” said Nehammer.
Austria’s National Security Council signed off on setting up the commission later that day.
In a surprising development, the head of the Vienna Provincial Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counter-Terrorism (the main domestic intelligence agency for the city of Vienna) announced he would be stepping down while an investigation was carried out. “Obvious and from our point of view intolerable mistakes were made,” said Nehammer.
While we can not expect every terrorist plot to be prevented, we can expect to hold our public officials responsible for their failures and potential acts of negligence (or worse) which have continued to result in the deaths of hundreds of citizens across Europe in recent years.