By Jack Ryan, Assistant Researcher.
Austria is the latest EU country to fall victim to a lone wolf style Islamist terror attack;
Events in France, specifically the beheading of Samuel Paty and the stabbings in Nice, likely inspired the attacker. This has also led the UK to raise its terror alert level;
The attack on November 2nd in Vienna left five dead and 14 injured;
The attacker successfully convinced authorities he had been de-radicalized, leading to his early release from prison;
He is the second attacker to launch a lone wolf attack in Europe after being released from prison, the first being the London Bridge attacker, Usman Khan.
Latest terrorist attacks in Austria
Trends show a steady increase in terror-related events in Austria aside from a gap in the years 1999 to 2005, arguably a time of transition from a time of terror from Basque terrorist group ETA to that of the rise of Islamist extremism. The attack on November 2nd signifies a new wave of Jihadism emerging in the region.
The attack on November 2nd left five people dead, four civilians and the attacker. Of the 14 injured in the attack, seven are in critical condition. The attacker was previously incarcerated after trying to join ISIS. He deceived authorities who believed he had been de-radicalised. The attacker wore a fake explosive vest and armed himself with an automatic rifle, a handgun, and a machete. There was confusion after reports suggested that there were multiple attackers; however, the interior minister, Karl Nehammer, said There is no indication of a second assailant.
Jihadism in Austria and ISIS
Austria’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT) in its 2018 annual report that “Islamist extremism—and Jihadist terrorism in particular—has been a permanent and currently the largest threat potential for liberal-democratic societies.” The Counter Extremism Project reported “As of October 2017, approximately 313 Austrian citizens actively participated or attempted to participate in fighting alongside extremists in Iraq and Syria. An estimated 94 of those are believed to have returned to Austria, while 55 are suspected to be dead.” This makes the possibility of lone-wolf attacks, especially those inspired by attacks elsewhere in Europe, particularly likely.
Counter-terrorism policy and Modus Operandi
Austria revised its National Security Strategy in July 2013 which emphasises the integration of immigrants; an approach focused on prevention as opposed to countering terrorism. The report also goes on to stress the importance of international cooperation concerning counter-terrorism.
In 2017, the Austrian Government banned face coverings (including the Niqab), this led to an outcry from its small Niqab wearing community, who felt their religion was explicitly targeted. In addition to outcry from the small Muslim community, tourism officials expressed fears that the measures would also deter visitors from the Gulf. The Austrian Government defended its move saying it was a necessary security measure.
The overall trend in Europe
Europe has fallen victim to multiple terror attacks, especially those of the lone wolf nature, homegrown terrorists who align themselves with ISIS. The issue is how these attackers inspire each other, attacks often appear to happen in quick succession, and the Austria attacker was likely inspired by recent events in France. The UK has raised its terror alert level in preparation for any attackers in the UK who may also be inspired. However, the attacks pose a second issue for EU leaders, the growing number of far-right extremists. Islamist terror attacks often invoke an anti-immigration attitude and give rise to extremist far-right groups; the increase in the rate of Islamist terror attacks in Europe will undoubtedly give rise to the number of reactionary far-right attacks.