ANALYSIS: Vienna terror attack was ‘only a matter of time’

Until the deadly shooting in the heart of the Austrian capital Vienna on Monday night, the country had in recent decades been spared the shock and mayhem wreaked by major terrorist attacks -- but experts say the horrific events shouldn't have come as a surprise.

ANALYSIS: Vienna terror attack was 'only a matter of time'
Army patrol the streets of Vienna along with the police. AFP

The country was on Tuesday mourning four civilians shot dead by a 20-year-old Islamic State sympathiser who attacked a popular nightlife area in the heart of Vienna on the last night before a second coronavirus shutdown.

Political scientist and Middle East expert Thomas Schmidinger told AFP that it had only been a matter of time before such an attack occurred in Austria.

“I am not surprised that this is happening in Vienna now. What can happen in Nice, in Berlin or Brussels can happen here as well,” Schmidinger said.

The fact that Austria prides itself on its reputation as a neutral country, not taking part in military alliances like Nato, has not saved it from being a target for extremists.

“The entire scene has been in Vienna for a while,” Schmidinger said, referring to hundreds of sympathisers he estimates the Islamic State (IS) group has in Vienna. 

READ ALSO: 'How was it possible?' Austrians left asking painful questions after Vienna shootings

The suspected killer held Austrian and Macedonian nationality and was shot dead in a firefight with police and special forces on Monday night.

On Tuesday, Austria's interior minister Karl Nehammer confirmed the arrest of 14 other suspects, but said that it was still unclear whether they had played a role in the attack.

'Homegrown terrorism'

As with other terrorists in attacks across Europe, Vienna's shooter had long lived among those he targeted when he armed himself with an automatic weapon, a handgun and a machete and strapped a fake explosives belt around his 

“What we can say for sure is that this is homegrown terrorism — terrorism by a person who grew up in Vienna and who lived in Vienna and who therefore attacked right here,” Schmidinger said.

The attacker was born in the commuter town of Moedling just to the south of Vienna.

While his exact links to terror group Isis were unclear, he was previously sentenced for attempting to travel to Syria in order to join the Islamic State extremist organisation.

Austria has seen a relatively high proportion of residents trying to make the same journey.

In 2018 the interior ministry said around 300 people had either left or been intercepted trying to leave Austria to fight in Syria or Iraq since 2011. 

Some 50 of them had died there while around 100 returned.

'Not spontaneous'

Monday's attack, according to Schmidinger, was conceived by “someone who wanted to cause as much harm as possible.”

“It was planned, it was definitely not a spontaneous rampage — even the timing on the eve of the big lockdown where many people were outside speaks to that,” Schmidinger said.

In a televised address to his compatriots on the morning after the atrocity, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that “often we in Austria see ourselves as an island of the blessed, where we only know about violence and terror from abroad”.

But the sad truth is even if we're lucky enough to live in an essentially safe country, sadly we don't live in a safe world.”

The last time a large terrorist attack rocked the small nation of fewer than 9 million people was a racist bomb attack on the Roma minority which killed four people in the Burgenland region in 1995.

In the 1980s there was a series of deadly attacks by Palestinian militants, including a hostage-taking attempt at the counter of the Israeli airline El Al at Vienna airport and attack on a bar mitzvah at the main synagogue.

In December 1975 there was the infamous attack by a commando group led by Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, alias Carlos the Jackal, in which 70 people were taken hostage, including 11 oil ministers, at the OPEC headquarters in Vienna. Three 
people were killed.

Austria has lax gun ownership laws, largely due to a high number of people who enjoy hunting, but violent attacks or murders are extremely rare.

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What’s on: Five things to do in Vienna this weekend

Vienna is full of events, places to visit and great new restaurants to try out. If you are overwhelmed with the possibilities or just wondering where you can find a cafe with a fireplace, here are some ideas.

What's on: Five things to do in Vienna this weekend

Haus der Musik

Austria and its capital Vienna are known for their connection to the world of music, from classical names to more recent rock, pop and hip hop creations. 

In Vienna, one of the best museums for all ages is the house of music, with information and many interactive experiences will teach you how sound is created and show you pieces from the city’s philharmonic. 

One of the highlights is the staircase between floors that acts as a piano allowing visitors to compose their music. 

You can find more information here.

Long night in the museum

Definitely one of the coolest events in any city. This weekend is the time to visit Viennese museums way after hours – the event is actually Austria-wide and you can check all participating institutions here.

On Saturday, the 1st of October, the “ORF Long Night of Museums” takes place. From 6 pm to 1 am, numerous museums open their doors and offer a diverse program for young and old. The regular tickets cost 15 euros, discounted tickets 12 euros and regionally limited tickets six euros. Admission is free for children up to the age of twelve.

You can find more information here.

Café Jelinek

As the weather gets colder and the weekend promises some rain, of course staying indoors is a good idea. Vienna is full of beautiful cafes to visit and enjoy, but Jelinek has a charm of its own.

The traditional coffee house not only has delicious food in a great environment, but visitors can also enjoy some warmth straight from the fireplace (no extremely high gas bills here!).

You can find more information here.

Vienna Comic Con 

This weekend, Austria’s capital is hosting the Vienna Comic Con. Comic fans can meet up and enjoy the event with some great guests. Besides famous comic artists, fantasy authors, and voice actors, there are cosplay guests and entertainment guests. One of them is Jack Gleeson, the actor who played Joeffrey in Game of Thrones. 

The comic con also has thrilling esports tournaments, free-to-play areas, and more. 

You can find more information here.

Visit a heuriger

Not ready to say goodbye to heuriger season just yet? There are many unique places still open and worth a visit before it gets too old outside. 

The classic suggestion is Heuriger Wieninger, in the 21st district. Besides the house wine, there’s a buffet with warm and cold dishes, all in the traditional ambiance of a heuriger. 

You can find more information here.

Do you know any other cool events happening in Vienna during the weekends? You can email us at [email protected] to share your tips and suggestions.