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

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Vienna attack: Gunman Fejzulai Kujtim seemed a lost soul, says lawyer

The Slovak secret service had previously warned Austria that Kujtim had tried to buy ammunition, but the information was lost if there was a communication disruption, Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said at a press conference on Wednesday. Nehammer has asked for an independent commission to investigate what went wrong.

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

Attorney Nikolaus Rast, who represented Kujtim in 2019, told CNN that he was “calm, rather introverted” at the time.

“The last time I saw him was more than a year ago. And when I met him then, I would say that he was a lost soul who gave the impression that he was looking for his place,” said Rast.

“Nobody would have thought that he was capable of something like that, not to mention that he suspected it, otherwise something would have been done much earlier because we in Austria basically have a relatively well-functioning system.”

In a statement by the Austrian deradicalization association DERAD on Wednesday, it said that Kujtim would have been released from prison in July 2020, even if he had not been released on parole and had been asked to participate in his program.

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

The investigation continues

The police arrested two men from Kujtim’s hometown on Tuesday, reported the Austrian public broadcaster ORF, to see if he was part of a wider network.

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

According to ORF, both are said to have had contact with the Viennese attacker in the past.

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

Police in Switzerland arrested two Swiss citizens in connection with the attack on Tuesday evening, but their ties to Kujtim have not been confirmed.

Nehammer announced at a press conference on Tuesday that 14 suspects had been provisionally arrested after 18 house searches in Vienna and Lower Austria.

There is currently no evidence of a second perpetrator, said the interior minister.

The police and the armed forces can be seen in Seitenstettengasse on Wednesday.

People returned to the streets of Vienna on Wednesday, despite the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic mean many are working from home. Authorities advised residents to stay home on Tuesday amid concerns that other perpetrators might be at large.

Some left flowers and burned candles on makeshift memorials for the victims on the streets where the bloody attack took place. Large numbers of police and military officers were stationed in the area on Wednesday, but the mood seemed calm and many stores were reopening.

The Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told CNN in an interview on Tuesday that his country not only wanted to fight terrorists, but also the ideology behind them.

Kurz said there was a shooter and “he was probably alone”. The authorities had previously feared that the perpetrator was not acting alone and that another shooter might be at large.

Kurz confirmed that the Sagittarius was born in Austria and had a family background from Northern Macedonia. “We know he’s a supporter of Islamic State,” he said.

ISIS took responsibility for the attack on Tuesday, calling the shooter “Abu Dujana Al-Albany” and claiming that he had used two weapons in the attack, including a machine gun and a knife. This is evident from a statement posted on the encrypted messaging app Telegram.

Wreaths, flowers and candles will be left in Vienna's Judengasse on Wednesday.

Palestinians “helped rescue police”

The first attack, which began around 8 p.m. on Monday, focused on the busy shopping and dining area near Vienna’s main synagogue, the Seitstettengasse 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 agency who spoke to journalists on Tuesday.

Vienna Mayor Michael Ludwig said the shots were fired randomly. when people dined and drank outside because of the warm weather and virus concerns.

After reports of gunfire, armed police quickly swarmed the area in helicopters and ambulances. The police patrolled the city center and ordered people to stay in bars and restaurants.

A Palestinian, 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 pulled the policeman behind a cement barrier so that he was no longer in the line of fire,” said lawyer Muna Duzdar.

23-year-old Abu El Hosna, who lives in Vienna but is originally from Gaza, told CNN that he was with a colleague outside of work at McDonald’s in the city’s central Schwedenplatz when the first shots were fired on Monday evening.

“Suddenly I see this guy not far from us … he looks at us and he shoots us. First I got my colleagues to safety. And then I hid behind a tree, but the guy walked up to us and kept walking shoot, “said Abu El Hosna.

“I talked to him, I said ‘Is it about religion? I’m Muslim, we’re all Muslims here’ and I spoke Arabic so he would stop, but he didn’t stop,” he said.

“To me this is not a Muslim. I am a Muslim and I am a proud Muslim,” said Abu El Hosna. “I will die for everyone … because this is my country and I live here. I am safe here. I fled a war and this is my future, my home.”

Abu El Hosna described how the attacker hid before reappearing and shooting the policeman who had come to help Abu El Hosna and his colleague.

Osama Abu El Hosna

“The policeman was screaming and bleeding,” said Abu El Hosna. “I was shocked. But I said no, I won’t run away. Because these police have put themselves in danger for us.”

He said he gave the policeman first aid and used his clothes to try to stop the bleeding in his leg before seeking further help.

“He ran back to get the officer out of there, and then the two boys from Turkey helped because he couldn’t have done it alone,” said Duzdar. “Together they dragged him to the ambulance.”

Reuters and the Turkish news agency Anadolu reported on Tuesday how two Austrian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters of Turkish origin intervened to rescue a police officer and two women during the attack.

As in many European countries, there was an increase in Austria between 2014 and 2017 of young radicalized Muslims who tried to join IS in Syria before the self-declared caliphate of the terrorists collapsed.

On Tuesday, one day after the attack in Vienna, the UK increased its terrorist threat from significant to severe.

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

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which part of Austria Fejzulai Kujtim came from. He was from Moedling, a suburb of Vienna.

CNN’s journalist Denise Hruby and 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.