Police increase armed patrols but no change in Gib threat level after Vienna attack
By Chronicle staff and agencies
The Royal Gibraltar Police has increased armed patrols on the Rock in the wake of a terror attack in Vienna on Monday night, calling on the public to remain vigilant even though the alert level here remains unchanged and there is nothing to suggest a specific threat to Gibraltar.
Austrian police raided 18 properties and arrested 14 people in a massive dragnet on Tuesday, after a gunman identified as a convicted jihadist killed four people in a rampage in the centre of Vienna overnight.
The gunman, who was killed by police minutes after opening fire on crowded bars, was a supporter of the so-called Islamic State and had been released from jail less than a year ago.
An elderly man and woman, a young passer-by and a waitress were killed, and 22 people including a policeman were wounded, Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference. Vienna's mayor said three people were still in critical condition.
The attack followed shortly after deadly assaults by lone Islamist attackers in Nice and Paris, where some Muslims have been angered by publication of satirical caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
It also followed two terror attacks within a week targeting students in Afghanistan, the latest in Kabul University on Monday and both claimed by Islamic State.
In a televised address, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told Austrians: "This is not a conflict between Christians and Muslims or between Austrians and migrants. No, this is a fight between the many people who believe in peace and the few (who oppose it). It is a fight between civilisation and barbarism."
On Tuesday, the UK’s terrorism threat level was raised to 'severe', meaning an attack is now seen as highly likely.
"This is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat," Home Secretary Priti Patel said on Twitter.
"The British public should be in no doubt that we will take the strongest possible action to protect our national security."
The UK’s new threat level means an attack is “highly likely”, according to the UK Government's classification system. The previous 'substantial' level meant an attack was likely.
There was no change to the threat level in Gibraltar, which remains at moderate even though the RGP has hardened its posture both as a deterrent and to provide reassurance to the community.
Richard Ullger, the Commissioner of Police, said recent events in Vienna and France were a reminder that Europe, Gibraltar included, continued to face a broad terrorist threat.
He said cooperation between the public and police was a powerful defence and urged the public to remain vigilant and report anything suspicious.
The decision to keep Gibraltar’s threat level at moderate followed discussion between the Commissioner, the Governor, Vice Admiral Sir David Steel and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.
Sir David and Mr Picardo co-chair the Gibraltar Contingency Council, which brings together Gibraltar’s law enforcement agencies and emergency services and is tasked with monitoring and responding to threats to the Rock, including terrorism.
The current ‘moderate’ threat level is the second in the same five-step grading used by the UK and means a terrorist attack is “possible but not likely.”
The threat level here is judged by several factors including available intelligence, terrorist capability, terrorist intentions and timescale, and draws on input from the UK’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.
There is currently no intelligence to suggest any specific risk to the Rock.
Until last July, Gibraltar’s threat level had been set one level higher at ‘substantial’ for the past five years.
The threat level in Gibraltar was raised in 2015 following the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine office in Paris and had remained at substantial, meaning an attack was likely.
But it was downgraded in July after the Gibraltar Contingency Council reviewed all available intelligence and decided the higher grading was no longer necessary.
On Tuesday, Austria’s Interior Minister said footage of the incident filmed on numerous mobile phones showed no evidence of a second gunman, although the possibility had not been completely ruled out.
An Austrian police spokesman said at least 1,000 officers had been involved in the search for accomplices. The army was guarding sensitive sites to free up police for the operation.
The attacker, an Austrian-born son of immigrants from North Macedonia, was wearing an explosive belt that turned out to be fake. Vienna's police chief said he was killed nine minutes after starting his rampage.
He was identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, a dual citizen of Austria and North Macedonia, who had been sentenced to 22 months in jail in April last year for attempting to travel to Syria to join Islamic State, but released early, in December.
Mr Nehammer said Fejzulai had attended a de-radicalisation programme, but that "despite all the outward signs that he was integrating into society, the assailant apparently did exactly the opposite.”
Fejzulai had posted a photo on a social media account before the attack, showing himself with weapons, Mr Nehammer said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
Officials said the perpetrator had been armed with an automatic rifle, a handgun and a machete.
Witnesses described crowds being fired on in bars as people enjoyed a last evening out before the start of a nationwide coronavirus curfew.
The Austrian government announced three days of national mourning and held a minute's silence at noon.
A witness to the attack, Vienna rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, said he had seen one shooter but could not be certain there were no others.
"I saw one person. Later, I saw videos and I'm not sure it was the same one. I find it very difficult to identify someone in a fraction of a second," he told Reuters television.
Videos posted on social media showed a gunman running down a cobbled street shooting and yelling. One showed a man gunning down a person outside a cocktail bar on the street where the synagogue is located, then returning to shoot the same person again.
Police sealed off much of the historic city centre overnight, urging the public to shelter where they were.
Many sought refuge in bars and hotels, while public transport in the area was shut down until morning.
The shooting took place as the Vienna State Opera was holding its final concert before the lockdown. Musicians played on, despite news of the violence outside: "If people weren't allowed to leave anyway, why should we stop early?" a spokeswoman said.
After the concert, with the doors still locked, four members of the orchestra came back into the pit to play a Haydn string quartet for those who were still in their seats.
Vienna had until now been spared the kind of deadly Islamist militant attacks that have struck Paris, London, Berlin and Brussels, among others, in recent years.
Condolences poured in from leaders around the world. U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: "These evil attacks against innocent people must stop. The U.S. stands with Austria, France, and all of Europe in the fight against terrorists, including radical Islamic terrorists."
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned what he called a "horrific terrorist attack", adding: "We must all stand united against hate and violence."
In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron went to the Austrian Embassy to write a message of condolence in German that read: "In joy and in sorrow, we will remain united."
Both he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke to Mr Kurz to offer their support.
On Tuesday, the Chief Minister wrote to Mr Kurz to express condolences on behalf of the Government of Gibraltar and the People of Gibraltar following Monday’s attack.
He also wrote to Mr Macron and to the Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, to express condolences following the recent attacks in France.
In a third letter, Mr Picardo also wrote to the President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Dr Ashraf Ghani, to express Gibraltar’s condolences following a terrorist attack in Kabul University on Monday that left 22 people dead, the second attack targeting students within the space of a week.
On October 24, a suicide bomber killed 24 people including teenage students at an education centre in Kabul. Islamic State claimed responsibility for both attacks.
“Gibraltar, its people and Government stand in unity and solidarity with all the families of the victims at this sad time,” Mr Picardo said.
“It was very painful to have to write these three letters in such close succession.”