Vienna’s anti-terrorism chief suspended after deadly attack in Austrian capital

Vienna's anti-terrorism chief suspended after deadly attack in Austrian capital

The head of the agency in charge of anti-terrorism operations in Vienna has been suspended pending an investigation into a deadly Islamist attack which took place in Austria’s capital earlier this week.

“The head of the regional Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Anti-Terrorism (BVT) asked me to suspend his functions because he doesn’t want to stand in the way of an orderly inquiry,” Gerhard Puerstl, the head of the city’s police, said during a press conference on Friday.

On Monday, a 20-year-old man, who had previously served time in prison for trying to join Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), went on a rampage with an automatic rifle in Vienna. The attacker killed four people and injured more than 20 others before being gunned down by police.

Following the attack – the first such incident in Austria in decades – Chancellor Sebastian Kurz vowed to clamp down on “political Islam” and urged other EU leaders to abandon what he described as “misunderstood tolerance.”

The Austrian government followed through on this promise on Friday by announcing the closure of two mosques which are believed to have contributed to the attacker’s radicalization.

Some 15 people have been detained in connection with the shootings and all are suspected of being members a hardline Islamist network, according to Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer.

The suspension of Vienna’s anti-terrorism chief was confirmed by Nehammer on Friday. The minister said that “obvious, and from our point of view intolerable, mistakes were made” by the state’s security agencies in light of the attack.

Nehammer also added that threat assessment mechanisms would be reviewed to make sure proper monitoring measures are in place in Austria.

Puerstl earlier revealed that intelligence from Slovakian authorities revealing the Vienna attacker had attempted to buy ammunition there had been overlooked, and that his contacts with people in Germany – who were monitored by the German security services over Islamist links – were known.

Putting these facts together “could have led to a different outcome regarding the assessment of the threat posed by the perpetrator,” he said.

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