Vienna terror attack: Muslims praised for heroics as intelligence failure is slammed

27th Nov 2020
Vienna terror attack: Muslims praised for heroics as intelligence failure is slammed

Turkey’s Ambassador in Vienna Ozan Ceyhun congratulates Recep Tayyip Gültekin and Mikail Özen, two ethnic Turks who risked their lives by facing a hail of bullets to help injured civilians and a police officer on November 03. (Credit: Aşkın Kıyağan//Anadolu Agency)

Harun Nasrullah

Three Muslim men (two of Turkish origin and a Palestinian) have been hailed for helping a police officer and a passer-by during a terror attack in the Austrian capital which left four people dead. As the men’s heroism were being celebrated debate also raged on the country’s intelligence failure and even possible collusion.

The trio was acknowledged for their courage following the deadly gun attack in Schwedenplatz Square on November 2, after a video of them running to a metro station exit and helping passers-by and a police officer went viral.

Recep Tayyip Gültekin was shot in the leg while aiding a woman with his friend, Mikail Özen. The mixed martial artist and personal trainer also carried an injured police officer to safety after a Palestinian man, Osama Joda, gave him first aid.

Joda, 23, was working at a nearby McDonald’s and told local newspaper Kurier that he was carrying goods into the restaurant when the attacker began shooting at passers-by. When two police officers came to help, the attacker opened fire, striking one of them.

“I pulled him behind the concrete bench and tried to stop the bleeding. There was blood everywhere,” said Joda. He then helped to drag the officer to a nearby ambulance.

The interior ministry confirmed the men helped during the attack carried out by a radicalised Vienna-born man, who was shot dead by police during the incident.

Özen and Gültekin had planned to “drink a last coffee” together before the country’s coronavirus lockdown came into effect, they said in a video posted online immediately after the attack. The first shots could be heard even as they arrived at the busy square by the river to find “people lying on the ground covered in blood”, Özen recalled.

They went to help a panicked older woman who was looking for a place to hide — only to see a wounded policeman lying on the ground. “We couldn’t act as if we hadn’t seen him,” Özen said. “We ran and carried him to the ambulance” by supporting him under his shoulders as the gunfire continued.

“We immediately knew what to do. There was no choice but to help. Austria is our home. We would help at any time. We’re Muslims of Turkish origin; we hate any kind of terrorism. We’re with Austria, with Vienna, we respect Austria,” said 25-year-old Özen.

Turkey’s Ambassador to Austria, Ozan Ceyhun, also hosted Özen and Gültekin at the Turkish embassy and praised their conduct. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had called the pair to congratulate them.

Intelligence failure

The 20-year-old gunman, identified as Fejzulai Kujtim, an ISIS sympathizer, was known to the police for suspected links to terrorists. The gunman was also under the radar of other European intelligence organisations.

Austria’s Interior Minister, Karl Nehammer, confirmed that Slovakia’s intelligence agency had warned their Austrian counterparts that the suspect travelled to their territory to buy ammunition. However, Austria’s domestic intelligence agency BVT failed to take on the warning and did not pass this information on to the prosecutors or the Justice Ministry.

The media and victims’ families are also asking why Kujtim was released early from jail. The suspect was jailed for 22 months in 2019 for attempting to travel to Syria to join ISIS but was released early in December last year, apparently due to his young age. Kujtim was arrested in Turkey and deported him to Austria when he attempted to travel to Syria, Turkish authorities warned Austria about his plans.

Austrian experts are accusing security agencies and the Justice Ministry of failing to notice further radicalization of the suspect during his stay in prison and releasing him early.

Despite his radicalization and contacts with other suspected extremists, Austrian security agencies failed to closely monitor Kujtim’s movements and communication after he was released from prison.The suspect was able to purchase an automatic rifle and ammunition for the terrorist attack, through his contacts.

Many politicians are now asking how Austria’s intelligence services failed to detect the terror plot and are demanding an independent inquiry.

The opposition right-wing Freedom Party claimed that Kujtim was on terror surveillance even on the day he carried out the attack. FPO’ MP and former interior minister Herbert Kickl, accused the Government of concealing the truth and claimed that terrorist attack could have been prevented.

Kickl said Austrian security agencies had planned a major anti-terror operation code-named RAMSES a day after the terror attack, against groups which the suspect had contact with. The right-wing politician claimed that someone could have tipped-off this in advance to these groups, resulting in the suspect to carry out a terror attack a day earlier.

 

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