Four people were killed and twenty-three wounded in a terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria last Monday, November 2nd , after a gunman wielding an automatic rifle and a machete fired into crowds enjoying one final evening in the city before another coronavirus curfew. The Austrian police shot and killed the suspect shortly after. Among those murdered were a young student working as a waitress at one of the bars, a 21-year old Macedonian man, and two middle-aged Austrians. In the aftermath of the violence, Austria entered into three days of national mourning, bolstered by support and condolences from the international community.
Since the attack, the suspect has been identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, a young man who had become affiliated with a notoriously radical mosque in Vienna’s Ottakring district. According to the BBC, Fejzulai was imprisoned in 2019 as a “foreign fighter” after attempting to join Islamic State (ISIS) counterparts in Syria; Austria is the second-most popular state after Belgium as a source of these “foreign fighters” leaving for Iraq or Syria. After his release, Fejzulai was later flagged this summer in Slovakia for a failed attempt to purchase ammunition due to his lack of a license. Although Slovakia reported this incident to the Austrian government and intelligence, the case was not investigated further and Fejzulai faced no repercussions. In addition to Fejzulai, Switzerland detained two men who appeared to have been his collaborators while Austria arrested fourteen other acquaintances.
The Austria attack follows two October terrorist incidents in France: the murder of three church-goers in Nice and the beheading of a French teacher accused of showing his students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, whom Muslims believe should never be portrayed for fear of idolatry. In Nice, the knifing hit citizens particularly hard, hearkening back to the 2016 attack there in which 86 people were killed by an Islamic terrorist. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron has aggressively denounced “Islamic Separatism,” sparking anger and calls for a French boycott by countries like Turkey. This recent violence has also raised similar concern across Europe given spikes in terrorism throughout the continent within the last decade. Although this has seemed to subside in recent years, the frequency of attacks this month suggests a renewed rise in conflict. In a news interview, Austria’s Interior Minister Karl Nehammer described the tragedy as the “hardest day for Austria in many years,” it being a country that was largely excluded from previous European terrorism. Following the shooting, both the Czech Republic and Germany instituted increased border checks as a precaution.
ISIS has been quick to take responsibility for the Vienna terrorist attack. According to the Guardian, Fejzulai posted a photo just before the shooting in which he brandished both of his weapons, as well as a “bayat, or oath of allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the current leader of ISIS, and one of its best-known slogans spelled out in ammunition.” Similarly, Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi recalled the Nice attacker to have repeatedly uttered the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” or “God is the greatest,” demonstrating his Islamic ties.
Due to the high number of Islamic terrorist attacks since the start of the century, the international community has frequently decried Islam, especially the ideology of “jihad” to which many terrorist groups adhere. Despite the justified fear of this violence, it is important to clearly understand Islamic terms and beliefs to ensure that an entire religion is not excluded by association with this brutality. The term jihad refers to a religious “effort or struggle.” This struggle could denote an internal battle against the material world in favor of the spiritual, the eternal fight towards the formation of an upstanding Muslim world or a physical war against non-Muslims. It is this last iteration of jihad which has been used as justification for the egregious terrorist attacks throughout the non-Islamic world. To combat a common misconception, the majority of Muslims do not support nor associate with these tactics and view them as contrary to essential Islamic values.
This most recent wave of Islamic terrorist attacks within Europe raises serious global apprehension. Some say that ISIS and other terrorist groups have encouraged their followers to take advantage of the chaos and uncertainty created by the coronavirus, potentially opening the door for further violence and destruction. In light of numerous incidences surrounding the offensive portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed, Western countries may have to closely examine their potential lack of understanding of many Eastern cultures in order to increase cooperation and mitigate aggression. At the same time, global powers must take a strong stance against terrorism to ensure that 2020 does not spark another decade full of tragedy.
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