One gunman has been shot dead by police. Authorities are urging the public to stay inside while at least one suspect is on the run, according to Interior Minister Karl Nehammer. It is unclear how many shooters there are in total.
Nehammer and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz have described the incident as a “terror attack.”
“We are still in battle against the would-be terrorists,” Nehammer said on Austrian public broadcaster ORF, adding that several suspects are carrying assault rifles. “We assume there are several heavily armed perpetrators.”
Gunfire erupted in the Austrian capital at around 8 p.m. local time, just before the start of a nationwide lockdown to combat a resurgence of Covid-19, according to police.
Vienna’s mayor Michael Ludwig said the attackers started randomly shooting at people in a busy district packed with cafes and restaurants near Vienna’s main synagogue, Seitenstettengasse Temple.
Many people were out at bars, restaurants and public spaces, enjoying their last few hours of freedom before the lockdown went into effect.
Julia Hiermann, a resident in Vienna, was having drinks with a friend when the shooting began, she told CNN on the phone.
Restaurant staff told everyone to hide in the basement, she said. There she and others were told that gunmen were shooting outside the restaurant. Hiermann said she did not see or hear the attackers.
The police later came inside the restaurant and told us “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.
Ludwig told ORF authorities are still working to find out more about the perpetrators. Kurz told ORF that “an anti-Semitic motive cannot be excluded” due to the attack’s proximity to the synagogue, and that the Austrian army has been deployed to help protect buildings and properties. .
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.
In a press conference in the early hours of Tuesday, Nehammer said it was “the hardest day for Austria for many years.”
“Those who attack one of us, attacks all of us,” he said.
Across Europe, leaders have strongly condemned the attack.
“After France, it is a friendly country that is under attack,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter. France has seen two terror attacks in recent weeks.
“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.
This is a developing story, updates to follow
Stephanie Halasz and Tim Lister contributed to this report.