Vienna Waits for You: Terrorist Strikes Austrian Capital

Author: Brinkley Blum

Posted November 16th, 2020

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In the European nation of Austria, the fine line between freedom and restriction thinned down to mere hours.

    As a surge of COVID-19 cases encroached upon their continent - the Germany-bordering country on its own has amassed a total of 71,844 cases since the pandemic first struck - the Austrian government imposed a national, month-long lockdown, effective November 3rd. 

    The night before the lockdown was illuminated by the ethereal haze of city lights within Austria’s capital city, Vienna. Beneath their neon glow, citizens dared to toe that fine line, partying within the limits of the city center, where the pulse of music and light circulates through what natives call the “Bermuda Triangle:” a vibrant culinary and club scene nestled between the weathered facades of houses of worship. Some of those include the city’s oldest church, St. Ruprecht’s, and the Stadttempel, its primary synagogue.

    As the hours between the opening and closing of the city dwindled, a different sort of light loomed over its streets: the flash and bang of gunshots.

    Those few hours before isolation became defined by just nine minutes, in which an extreme Muslim jihadist set Vienna ablaze with gunfire, targeting six locations peppered with restaurants, bars, and clubs near the Stadttempl. He was also armed with a machete, and both attacks from gunshots and stabbing would prove lethal to four and cause injuries to another twenty-three.

    Police were quickly drawn to the flame of gunfire, where, at the tail end of those nine minutes, they opened their own fire on the extremist, shooting him dead close by St. Ruprecht’s. However, the identity of the perpetrator, as well as if there had been more than one of them, was blurred by the haze of smoke.

    As the ashes settled beneath the rising sun of the next morning, only then did bystanders emerge from their refuge in hotel rooms and restaurant basements. The Vienna before them was not awash in the iridescence of celebration, but the blood that stained their streets with grief. They had captured the harrowing transition within the lens of their cell phone cameras and posted more than 20,000 videos to social media. They served to guide the police to clarity on the circumstances of the attack.

    While fourteen different people were arrested as potential accomplices, only one gunman stormed the streets of Vienna the prior night, striking not lightning, but fear, into the hearts of those around him. That man turned out to be 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, who had interacted with all those arrested. His history of jihadist activity was set in the stone of a prison cell: he’d been convicted twice, once for the terrorist association, and most recently in 2018, for attempting to join extreme Islamist coalition ISIS. Seven months after his release last December, security officials in neighboring Slovakia sent a warning to Austria that Fejzulai had tried to purchase ammunition for an AK-47 without a gun license, yet the latter country opened no investigation. 

    Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer declared Fejzulai as “radicalized,” a statement is proven by the deceased’s defense attorney, who revealed that Fejzulai had been influenced by less-than-genuine friends: “He was a young man who was searching for his place in society, who apparently went to the wrong mosque. I'd never have imagined he could become a killer.”

    Today, the light within Vienna is no longer dimmed, but sustained from candle flames placed outside the sites where four victims died: a 21-year-old passerby with a passion for painting and football, a German student who’d been employed as a waitress at one of the targeted restaurants, a Chinese-Austrian bargoer, and a 44-year-old who found work at nearby company Tribotecc. Memorial services were attended by Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, rallied together by collective agony, not just for the lives lost and critically injured, but the extinguishing of going out (or into isolation) in a blaze of glory into the destructive flames of terror that consumed their home city. Yet Vienna rebuilds itself on a foundation of supportive words from other European politicians, as well as Nehammer himself: “[This] attack was an attack on our values, and a completely useless attempt to weaken our democratic society or to divide it… we do not tolerate this in any way or from anyone."