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Vienna assault: Gunman Fejzulai Kujtim appeared a misplaced soul, says legal professional

Kujtim was sentenced to 22 months in prison on April 25, 2019 for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told state news agency APA. On December 5, he was released early on parole, the agency reported.

Lawyer Nikolaus Rast, who represented Kujtim in 2019, told CNN that he had seemed “quiet, rather introvert” at the time.

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“I last saw him more than a year ago. And when I got to know him back then, I’d say he was a lost soul, who gave the impression that he was looking for his place,” Rast said.

“Nobody would have thought him capable of something like this, not to mention suspecting it, otherwise something would have been done much earlier, because in principle we have a relatively well-functioning system in place in Austria.”

A statement Wednesday from Austria’s deradicalization association, DERAD, said Kujtim would have been released from prison in July 2020 even if he hadn’t been released on probation and ordered to participate in its program.

Kujtim was wearing a fake explosive belt at the time of the attack, according to Nehammer, and had been “radicalized.”

Investigation continues

Police arrested two men Tuesday from Kujtim’s hometown, Austrian public broadcaster ORF reported, as they seek to establish whether he was part of a broader network.

The two men are aged between 20 and 25 years old and live with relatives, ORF said. One of the two has North Macedonian roots, and the other Chechen, the broadcaster said.

Both are said to have had contact with the Vienna attacker in the past, according to ORF.

A police car stands in front of a residential building in St. Poelten, Austria, where raids were carried out Tuesday in connection with the Vienna attack.

Police in Switzerland arrested two Swiss citizens in connection with the attack on Tuesday night, but their links to Kujtim were not confirmed.

Nehammer told a news conference earlier Tuesday that 14 suspects had been provisionally arrested following 18 house searches in Vienna and Niederoesterreich.

There are no indications of a second perpetrator for the time being, the interior minister said.

Police and military forces are seen in Seitenstettengasse, Vienna, on Wednesday.

People returned to the streets of central Vienna on Wednesday, although coronavirus pandemic restrictions mean many are working from home. Authorities had advised residents to stay at home on Tuesday amid fears that further perpetrators might be on the loose.

Some left flowers and lit candles at makeshift memorials to the victims in the streets where the bloody attack took place. Large numbers of police and military were stationed in the area Wednesday but the mood appeared calm and many shops had reopened.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz told CNN in an interview Tuesday that his country was not only looking to combat terrorists, but also the ideology behind them.

Kurz said there was one gunman and “probably he was alone.” Authorities had previously feared that the perpetrator didn’t act alone and that another gunman might be at large.

Kurz confirmed the gunman was born in Austria and had a family background from Northern Macedonia. “What we know is that he is a supporter of the Islamic State,” he said.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Tuesday, calling the shooter “Abu Dujana Al-Albany” and claiming that he used two guns, including one machine gun, and a knife, in the assault, according to a statement posted on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Wreaths, flowers and candles are left on Judengasse in Vienna on Wednesday.

Palestinian ‘helped save policeman’

The initial attack, which began around 8 p.m. Monday, was centered on the busy shopping and dining district near Vienna’s main synagogue, Seitenstettengasse Temple, which was closed.

The five other locations were identified as Salzgries, Fleischmarkt, Bauernmarkt, Graben and Morzinplatz near the Temple, according to an Austrian law enforcement source speaking to journalists on Tuesday.

Vienna mayor Michael Ludwig said shots appeared to be fired at random, as people dined and drank outside due to the warm weather and virus concerns.

Following reports of gunshots, armed police quickly swarmed the area, with helicopters and ambulances deployed. Police could be seen patrolling the city center, ordering people to stay inside bars and restaurants.

A Palestinian man, Osama Abu El Hosna, helped rescue a police officer who was injured during the operation, his lawyer told CNN. “He could have run away, but he stayed, and he dragged the policeman behind a cement barrier so that he’s not in the line of fire any more,” lawyer Muna Duzdar said.

“The paramedics didn’t dare to drag him out and to get right into the barrage of gunfire, so that’s when he ran back to get the officer out of there, and then the two guys from Turkey helped because he couldn’t have done it by himself,” she added. “Together, they dragged him to the ambulance.”

Reuters and Turkish news agency Anadolu reported Tuesday how two Austrian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of Turkish descent had helped save a police officer and two women during the attack.

Like many European countries, Austria experienced a surge in young radicalized Muslims trying to join ISIS in Syria between 2014 and 2017, before the terrorists’ self-declared caliphate collapsed.

The United Kingdom raised its terror threat level from substantial to severe on Tuesday, a day after the attack in Vienna.

“This is a precautionary measure and is not based on any specific threat. The public should continue to remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to the police,” UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a tweet.

Journalist Denise Hruby and CNN’s Frederick Pleitgen reported from Vienna, while Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN’s Sara Mazloumsaki, Nina Avramova, Frederik Pleitgen, Luke McGee and Sharon Braithwaite contributed to this report.

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