On November 2, 2020, a gunman affiliated with the terror group ISIS went on a rampage in Vienna’s first district, killing four and wounding 20 before being shot dead by police. Now, political leaders have called for solidarity among all Austrians, as the ÖVP-led government also hosted an international meeting to tackle what it calls “political Islam”. Despite these measures, around two-thirds of Austrians said they do not think another terrorist attack is likely, according to new poll commissioned by daily newspaper Der Standard.
Remembering the victims
“This assault was an attack on all of us and on our free society,” said Sebastian Kurz, head of the centre-right Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). “But even a year after the terrible assault, we are standing together and will not be divided by this hate!”
The Social Democrats condemed the “cowardly” terror attack and praised Austria as “a strong Republic based on the values of freedom, equality and solidarity”. They also called for a re-evaluation of rules that govern payouts to the victims of terror and their relatives, to guarantee that in future, appropriate restitution will be distributed “quickly and unbureaucratically”. While the social ministry has so far distributed a total of 170,000 euros to 76 approved applicants, according to ORF research, the government established an additional restitution fund of 2.2 million euros that will be administered via Weisser Ring (White Ring), an NGO that supports the victims of crimes.
The Islamic Community in Vienna (IGGÖ) posted a statement on Facebook condemning the attack. “The atrocities of a violence-glorifying and dehumanizing ideology have thrown an entire country into deep mourning. But Vienna and all of Austria have proven that social solidarity, respect and mutual support will not allow us to be divided!”
A memorial service was held this afternoon in the city’s oldest church, the Ruprechtskirche, located at the heart of the Bermuda-Dreieck neighborhood where the attack took place. President Alexander Van der Bellen, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and other leaders were expected to attend, news report said. Just meters away, the city of Vienna laid a wreath at a memorial unveiled earlier this year on Desider-Friedmann-Platz.
Politics and fear
Overall, only around a third of all Austrians believe there is a high or very high chance of another terrorist attack, according to a survey carried out on behalf of Der Standard by the Linzer Market-Institut, which polled 800 Austrians in mid-October. The newspaper said that (left-leaning) Green Party supporters tended to have low fear of a renewed attack, while center-right ÖVP and especially far-right FPÖ supporters were more likely to anticipate more acts of terror.
Respondents were also asked whether the attack had caused them to change their behaviour. Here, too, a left-to-right party-political breakdown was visible: While only 5% of Green supporters said they had definitely or probably changed their behaviour, a full 28% of FPÖ said they had. In response to a question about personal risk, “only every fiftieth person thought they faced a high person risk, and one in nine thought that they or their closest circle could be affected at some time,” Der Standard reported.
Reforms and new measures
In the immediate aftermath of the terror attack, authorities were criticized for having missed red flags: The extremist was known to authorities, his passport had been revoked after he tried to travel to Syria, and Slovakian police had informed Austria that the man had recently attempted to purchase ammunition for a Kalashnikov – a warning that was ignored. A commission established to investigate procedural missteps issued its report in February, highlighting in particular a lack of communication between various institutions and departments. In response, a new department for state protection and information services (Direktion für Staatsschutz und Nachrichtendienst (DSN)) was established within the interior ministry this summer.
Legislative changes also followed. An anti-terror law passed over the summer defines “religiously motivated” terror as a separate offence. It also permits authorities to monitor released terror offenders more closely, including with ankle bracelets. Most controversially, it established a list of all imams in Austria – and created, in cooperation with the University of Vienna’s Islamic theology scholar Ednan Islam, an “Islam Map” map of Islamic institutions and mosques in the country. This was initially taken offline following a negative public reception and because the information was used by extremist right-wing movements to stoke fear among Muslim communities in Austria. It is now back up and describes itself as “a work in progress” and as a resource for Muslims.
Last week, Integration Minister Susanne Raab hosted an international gathering with counterparts from Denmark, Belgium and France to increase cooperation against “political Islam,” with the stated goal of fighting radicalization and the establishment of “parallel societies” within Europe, APA reported. The ministers said they were not attacking Muslims or Islam, but that joint efforts to map actors and networks was important to prevent future terror attacks. “For us it was clear, that we have similar challenges in our countries…Islamism and terror don’t begin once violence occurs, but rather much earlier. This is about depriving segregration and radicalism of fertile soil,” Raab said in a statement.
France’s Minister Delegate for Citizenship, Marlene Schiappa, noted that most Muslims live peacefully in Europe.
Reported in cooperation with the Austrian Press Agency / APA.