Abstract: On November 2, 2020, a gun attack by an Islamic State supporter killed four in the center of Vienna. Although Austria has seen very little jihadi terrorist violence since 9/11, jihadi networks have operated in the country for decades and have long posed a threat. The Vienna attacker, Kujtim Fejzulai, grew up in the city he attacked and had longstanding connections within the jihadi extremist milieu in Austria as well as jihadi contacts in other European countries and further afield. His two failed attempts to join the Islamic State overseas and the failure of efforts to deradicalize him after he was convicted for seeking to join the group underline the threat that can be posed by failed jihadi travelers and terrorist convicts after their release, as well as the difficulties in rehabilitating jihadi prisoners. With over 100 jihadi extremists known to reside in Austria and with jihadis like Fejzulai connected to like-minded jihadis across Europe, authorities need to redouble efforts to identify and track national and transnational jihadi networks.

When a supporter of the Islamic State killed four and injured 22 on his shooting spree in Vienna’s city center on November 2, 2020, even some analysts were astonished that a terrorist attack had taken place in the Austrian capital. Up until that point, the threat posed by jihadi extremism in Austria had received little scholarly attention despite the long history of jihadi activism in the country and despite it having one of the highest per capita number of foreign terrorist fighters (FTF) in the European Union.1 With the Vienna attack coming days after jihadi terrorist attacks in Francea and Germany,b there was much focus in the media on the threat posed by a “new generation” of jihadi radicals influenced by Islamic State propaganda, acting independently, and with at most loose ties to the terrorist organization.2 The analysis in this article suggests that while no evidence has emerged so far that the Vienna attacker directly coordinated his attack with the Islamic State, he was a longstanding jihadi sympathizer and failed foreign fighter with ties to transnational jihadi networks that supplied foreign fighters to the Islamic State.

In this article, the authors argue that the Vienna attacker, Kujtim Fejzulai, is best understood as a member of a radical milieu in Austria, which originated in the 1990s, consolidated in the 2000s, and became an important recruitment hub during the heyday of the Islamic State. However, the strategy Fejzulai followed was propagated by the so-called Islamic State as soon as its dystopian project of a caliphate started to crumble. In a May 2016 audio message, Islamic State spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called on followers to attack their homelands instead of traveling to the caliphate: “The smallest action you do in their heartland is better and more enduring to us than what you would if you were with us. If one of you hoped to reach the Islamic State, we wish we were in your place to punish the Crusaders day and night.”3 This strategic shift regarding Western members of the Islamic State could likewise be observed in German-speaking official and unofficial Islamic State propaganda channels on Telegram throughout the second half of 2016.4 Despite the decline of FTF departures and sophisticated attacks in recent years, EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove warned in this publication in August 2020 that “we should remain vigilant about the threat of Daesh [Islamic State] attacks in Europe … the threat does not come only from individuals who are inspired by terrorist propaganda online and act independently.”5

This article draws on open-source information, court documents, the preliminary and final report of the expert enquiry committee set up in response to the Vienna attack, the authors’ longstanding tracking of Austrian trials related to jihadi terrorism, and interviews with members of the local jihadi milieu. It first outlines what is known about the Vienna attack and its perpetrator. It then examines what has emerged so far about his web of connections to extremists inside Austria and his transnational contacts.

In these sections, the article examines the lessons learned from the Vienna attack, including from the ultimately failed effort to deradicalize Fejzulai and what appear to be dropped balls in investigating the threat he posed. The authors argue that there needs to be greater effort to map out and track jihadi networks. The continued presence of a significant number of jihadi extremists in Austria and their connectivity to others in Europe and further afield means that Austria, despite being spared from a major attack until last year, faces a danger of further attacks.

The analysis in this article has implications for several problem sets faced by counterterrorism officials. Several studies have stressed the significance of pre-existing social ties for radicalization6 and the role of networks in spreading ideological concepts and mobilizing resources.7 Fejzulai’s case also underlines the threat posed by frustrated jihadi travelers and the difficulties that come along with rehabilitating/deradicalizing jihadis being released from prison. According to an assessment by Robin Simcox in this publication, individuals who attempted but did not manage to join the Islamic State or other groups in Syria and Iraq were responsible for at least 25 jihadi-inspired attacks and plots in Europe between January 2014 and June 2019.8

Closely connected to the issue of “frustrated travelers” is recent public outcry in Europe over terrorist recidivism. While there have been at least a dozen terrorist plots or attacks in Europe since the beginning of 2014 in which at least one of the alleged plotters/attackers had been convicted in Europe of a previous terrorism-related offense,9 two recent studies in this publication suggest this threat needs to be put in context. Thomas Renard presented data from Belgium suggesting “the threat of terrorist recidivism and reengagement is limited.”10 Robin Simcox and Hannah Stuart’s research supports Renard’s assessment by finding that “terrorist recidivism among U.K. offenders who are convicted of multiple terrorism offenses on separate occasions is low.”c

The Vienna Attack and Its Perpetrator
At around 8:00 PM on November 2, 2020, a man equipped with a Zastava M70 assault rifle, pistol, machete, and fake suicide vest started to shoot at pedestrians in one of Vienna’s central nightlife districts. The attack that left four victims dead and another 22 heavily injured lasted nine minutes until the attacker was shot dead by special police forces (Wiener Einsatzgruppe Alarmabteilung, WEGA).

The first shots were fired at Desider-Friedmann-Platz, where a memorial plaque reminds passers-by that at that exact spot in 1981, members of the Austrian Jewish religious community were killed by a Palestinian terrorist.11 After killing his first victim at the foot of the Jerusalemstiege, the attacker turned into the Judengasse, where he shot indiscriminately at people standing in front of bars, killing one waitress.12 He turned into the Seitenstettegasse where he shot a woman, who would later die in hospital.13 The statement in the video of a resident of that street, who supposedly shouted “Get lost asshole!” toward the attacker, would later go viral. After killing a restaurant owner at Schwedenplatz, the perpetrator came into contact for the first time with police.14 He shot one agent in the leg and rushed toward Morzinplatz. On the way there, he was shot dead by WEGA agents at Ruprechtsplatz. Fejzulai’s corpse would remain lying on the ground for some time. The fake suicide vests he was wearing had prompted authorities to call the bomb disposal unit, and they waited for an all-clear before they approached him.15 At this point in time, authorities still assumed that there were multiple attackers.16 For hours, Vienna residents could not be sure whether the attacker had acted alone or had accomplices who had joined in the attack.

The perpetrator was quickly identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, a 20-year-old dual Austrian and North Macedonian national. His father and mother—a gardener and a saleswoman, respectively—are ethnic Albanians from the small Northern Macedonian town of Celopek who moved to Vienna in 1985 where Kujtim and his sister were born. Fejzulai grew up in the multicultural Viennese neighborhood of Ottakring. In primary school, he was described as a quiet and unproblematic student.17 Later, he attended a polytechnical high school and played for the soccer team of an Albanian mosque. He met some of the friends with whom he later prayed, fasted, and went to the gym with, during his (short) time as an amateur footballer.18 Religion played an important role in his life from a young age, but it was not before 2014 that Fejzulai—at the time, a young teenager influenced by salafis at local mosques—started to follow a strict interpretation of Islam.19

At the same time that his religious zeal increased, he experienced violence and dropped out of school.20 Fejzulai also got into a serious conflict with his parents who threatened to kick him out of their home.21 One of the reasons for the falling out with his parents was most probably his increasingly religious lifestyle. When his parents moved into a new expensive apartment in 2017, Fejzulai rejected what he viewed as their materialistic lifestyle. At the time, he was increasingly socializing with young jihadi sympathizers who frequently met in salafi mosques, parks, and gyms.22

By the beginning of 2018, Fejzulai, not even 18 years old, had become deeply influenced by Islamic State ideology23 and for the first time came to the attention of the Austrian military intelligence (Heeresnachrichtenamt, HNA) as a supporter of the Islamic State.24 Wishing to leave his family home, he got in touch online with Islamic State members in Syria and Iraq who encouraged him to join them to have a ‘better’ life.25 In the summer of 2018, he and an Austrian-Turkish friend, Burak K., bought airplane tickets to Afghanistan but never implemented their plan to join the Islamic State there after they realized that they lacked the necessary visa.26 Instead, Fejzulai boarded a flight on September 1, 2018, to Istanbul, where a contact brought him to a safe house near the town of Hatay in the vicinity of the Turkish-Syrian border.27 Eventually, his quest to join the Islamic State failed. As a result of investigations by the Turkish General Directorate of Security, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism, police arrested Fejzulai on September 18, 2018, and deported him to Austria on January 10, 2019.28

Fejzulai was one of at least 62 “frustrated jihadi travelers” who tried to leave Austria for Syria and Iraq. The Vienna attack thus seems to tragically support Robin Simcox’s assessment of an evolving threat posed by such frustrated jihad travelers.29 In total, 326 Austrian jihadis were able to successfully join the Islamic State or other terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq.30 According to the authors’ own analysis, a significant number of departures took place in a relatively early phase of the Syrian War (2012 and 2013), illustrating that many Austrian foreign fighters became radicalized before the founding of the Islamic State’s caliphate. This first wave was characterized by the predominance of Austrian foreign fighters of Chechen origin who, driven by the decades-long conflict in the North Caucasus region, tended to join the Chechen-led insurgent groups Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JAMWA) and Junud al-Sham (JAS) to fight the Assad regime, an ally of these groups’ archenemy Russia.

With the founding of the Islamic State caliphate in the summer of 2014, the characteristics of the Austrian foreign fighter flow changed. Motivated to live in the newly founded caliphate, foreign fighters with a Balkan (especially Bosnians and to a lesser degree ethnic Albanians) and Turkish background thereafter made up a significant cohort of the jihadi travelers, with individuals of Chechen origin also continuing to travel in significant numbers. The observation of relevant court trials in Austria revealed that in some cases, sizable groups affiliated with single mosques set out for Syria and Iraq, with, for example, seven families with 16 children leaving from the Taqwa mosque in Graz.31 At the same time, there was a decrease in the average age of foreign fighters departing from Austria with this new wave now including many individuals under the age of 20.32

Fejzulai’s attempts to join the Islamic State in Afghanistan and Syria came after the number of foreign fighter departures from Austria had already declined sharply for various reasons such as the gradual disintegration of the caliphate and foreign fighters’ disillusionment with the leadership of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as well as the arrest of recruiters and the disruption of facilitation networks in Austria. However, the case of Fejzulai and his would-be travel companion to Afghanistan Burak K. shows that despite such setbacks, the Islamic State still held an attraction for jihadi extremists in Europe.

In June 2019, the Criminal Court of Vienna sentenced Kujtim Fejzulai and Burak K. to 22 months in prison for membership in a terrorist organization (§278b criminal code).33 During his trial, Fejzulai appeared remorseful, stating that he had visited the wrong mosque, had the wrong friends, and that he never supported terrorist attacks and the killing of ‘infidels’ by the Islamic State.34 In the sentence, the judge recommended the supervision of Fejzulai by a probation officer and members of Derad,35 d an NGO that was founded in December 2015 and has been tasked by the Ministry of Interior with preventing extremism among criminal offenders and inmates.36 While in prison, Fejzulai began attending meetings with Neustart, another Austrian NGO specialized in the reintegration of criminal offenders and deradicalization.37

Fejzulai stopped wearing a beard and salafi clothes during his prison stay.38 In August 2019, he requested an early release for December 2019. Fejzulai wrote in a statement that he had reflected a lot about his crime, which he regretted, and that he wanted to learn a profession and move into his own apartment after release.39 The prosecution opposed an early release, but the prison administration agreed on the condition that Fejzulai cooperate with Derad on his release. The prison authorities did not request further measures such as bans on contacting certain people or psychological care.40

Between his release at the end of 2019 and October 2020, Fejzulai attended 15 sessions with Derad and biweekly meetings with Neustart in which he discussed his financial situation, his daily structure, his offense, and his worldview with his counselors.41 He continued to adhere to salafism after his release.42 Fejzulai moved into his own apartment, attended workshops for vocational integration, wrote job applications, and worked for a security company.43 Derad employees described Fejzulai as friendly, naïve, and reserved.44 They considered him less radical than some of his circle as he began to show at least minimal tolerance toward democracy and the rule of law by voting in local elections.45 He was upset by Charlie Hebdo’s republication of Mohammad cartoons in France in September 2020 but told the Derad staff that the attacks in Paris in September 2020 and Nice in late October 2020 in response to it were wrong.46

Fejzulai’s case illustrates how radicalization and deradicalization are not always linear processes and the degree of disengagement from and reengagement with radical networks can fluctuate over time. Despite Fejzulai’s cooperation during and after his prison term, there were many warning signs indicating that he had reengaged with or even had never disengaged from jihadism. Derad employees were not naïve in their assessment. They recognized Fejzulai’s simplified and strongly dualistic, although very rudimentary, knowledge of religion.47 Likewise, they considered his reconnection with militant salafis as “problematic” and a serious obstacle for his deradicalization.48 Although he lacked theological knowledge, Fejzulai continued to consult salafi websites after his release and was especially influenced by the salafi group “Im Auftrag des Islam”e (On Behalf of Islam) and other followers of the pro-Islamic State preacher Halis Bayancuk (Ebu Hanzala).49 f

Derad employees also recognized physical changes in Fejzulai: he started to take anabolic steroids, became very muscular, grew a beard, and wore salafi clothes again.50 While the staff of Derad and Neustart had access to and some influence on Fejzulai, he was not willing to cooperate with the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (Landesamt Verfassungsschutz Wien, LVT) after his release as he rejected a request to appear as a witness against another jihadi extremist.51 Although his parents were initially involved in the reintegration efforts by the authorities,52 Fejzulai increasingly tried to avoid his family. After the attack, his grandfather in North Macedonia said that he seemed withdrawn the last time he saw him at the end of December 2019.53

At the same time, Fejzulai’s reengagement with young jihadis from Vienna, Germany, and Switzerland started to cause concern among security and intelligence agencies. Already in February 2020, Austria’s military intelligence service HNA recognized that Fejzulai was in touch with a person linked to the Islamic State and forwarded the information to the BVT.54 And German authorities warned their Austrian counterpart about Fejzulai’s links to militant salafis in Germany several months before the attack.55

In July 2020, Slovakian police informed Austria’s Federal Criminal Police (BKA) about Fejzulai’s attempt to buy ammunition in a gun shop in Bratislava, which failed because he and an individual who accompanied him could not present a firearms license.56 According to investigation files, the BKA forwarded the warning to the Austrian domestic intelligence agency BVT,g which prepared with the authorities in Vienna “further measures” against Fejzulai but never implemented them due to BVT’s preoccupation with “Operation Luxor” against an alleged financial network of the Muslim Brotherhood.57 For the very same reason, the BVT never analyzed the observations made of a July 2020 Vienna meeting between Fejzulai and jihadis from Germany and Switzerland shortly before the failed ammunition purchase.58 The meeting had been put under surveillance after the German Federal Service of Criminal Investigaton (BKA) had informed the BVT that some of the individuals from Germany were traveling to Vienna to meet Fejzulai. Vienna’s intelligence service LVT claimed that it was not aware of Fejzulai’s ties to these jihadi extremists from Germany and Switzerland as only one LVT employee received information from the BVT under the condition of confidentiality.59 The preliminary report by the independent expert investigation committee on the Vienna attack later concluded that the delay in information sharing and measures of surveillance were caused by the then assessment of the BVT and other agencies, which did not consider the threat posed by Fejzulai to be very high.60 It was only in October 2020 that the BVT considered him a high risk based on the intelligence collected on him and his contacts, but even that did not trigger further investigative actions.61

With the benefit of hindsight, however, several circumstances indicate that Fejzulai began planning his attack at least several weeks ahead of time. Besides his attempt to buy ammunition, friends later revealed that he had expressed a wish to blow himself up.62 It remains unknown (at least publicly) how he eventually acquired the weapons and ammunition used in the attack. According to Austrian media, during a raid on Fejzulai’s apartment after the attack, police discovered that he had barricaded it for a firefight, anticipating that police would come to arrest him before or (if he survived) after the attack.63

On the night of the attack, a photo of Fejzulai holding an assault rifle, pistol, and machete that he posted on his Instagram profile shortly before or during the attack began circulating on social media. So too did a bay`a (pledge of allegiance) to the Islamic State’s leader that he posted via Instagram.64 On his Instagram account, he also posted a picture displaying the word Baqiya (from the Islamic State’s slogan Baqiya wa tatamadad, which means ‘remaining and expanding’), written with bullets.65 The next day, the official Islamic State media channel Amaq claimed responsibility for the attack and uploaded a short video of Fejzulai as Abu Dujana al-Albani pledging his loyalty to Islamic State leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.66 It remains unclear how Fejzulai’s video reached members of the Islamic State, but most likely, it happened through international contacts he had previously made online and offline.

Kujtim Fejzulai and the Austrian Jihadi Milieu
Shortly after the attack, Austrian authorities launched investigations into 21 individuals connected to Fejzulai67 and arrested 12 individuals who were in contact with the perpetrator. In addition, law enforcement agencies in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Turkey arrested individuals tied to the Vienna attacker.68 A considerable proportion of them shared the same ethnicity as their families were rooted in the Western Balkans, especially in those countries with an Albanian population.h

Although Fejzulai was only 20 years old when he committed the Vienna attack, he had been part of the local salafi and jihadi milieu since his early teens. A former student of the notorious Vienna-based/Balkan-born preacher Mirsad Omerovic (Ebu Tejma)i confirmed he (the former student) and Fejzulai knew each other before Omerovic’s arrest in November 2014: “He [Fejzulai] was a real loser, […] someone who never had an opinion and who was always seeking attention,” stated the former student, who also stated that Fejzulai had “tried to get into contact with radical groups, but no one took him seriously.”69 The authors have not been able to determine conclusively that Fejzulai belonged to the “Ebu Tejma group” at Omerovic’s Altun Alem mosque in Vienna, but Fejzulai’s previous trial confirmed that he and his friends frequented two other mosques in Vienna that were strongly influenced by (militant) salafis, the Tewhid and Melit-Ibrahim mosque.70

Fejzulai’s connection to these two mosques is noteworthy. Each was led by a preacher who played a significant role in the radicalization of a generation of Islamist extremists in Austria. In the last decade, the Tewhid mosque repeatedly drew attention from the media and analysts due to some of those who frequented it and its longtime imam Mohamed Porca. Like most salafi preachers of the Bosnian diaspora in German-speaking Europe, Porca had close ties to leaders of the salafi movement in Bosnia, such as Jusuf Barcic and his successors Nusret Imamovic and Husein (Bilal) Bosnic.71 In 2007, Porca was accused by the media of having incited to violence Asim C. who entered the U.S. embassy in Vienna with a backpack filled with two grenades, plastic explosives, and nails. Asim C. not only reportedly frequented the Tewhid mosque, but he also carried Porca’s book Namaz u Islamu (The prayer in Islam) with him during the foiled attack.72 j By now, it is well known in the Bosnian diaspora community in Vienna that while still being an adherent of neo-salafi ideas, Porca has convincingly distanced himself ideologically from violent interpretations of Islam.73

Like Porca, the leader of the Melit-Ibrahim mosque, Nedzad Balkan, had a strong influence on the foundation and consolidation phase of salafism and jihadism in Austria. A former boxer and bouncer, Balkan studied at the Islamic University in Medina but never graduated, allegedly due to his disappointment with the Wahabi establishment in Saudi Arabia.74 After returning to Vienna, Balkan preached at Porca’s Tewhid Mosque but soon left because of ideological conflicts.75 Balkan sympathized with jihadi ideologues such as Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.76 Through his preaching activities, Balkan played a major role in popularizing takfirism in Austria and Germany.77 Guido Steinberg speculated that Balkan possibly thereafter became an adherent of the very extremist Hazimi movement within the Islamic State.78 By the end of the 2000s, Balkan had influenced a new generation of jihadis that probably included prominent extremists such as Omerovick and the Austrian Islamic State operative Mohamed Mahmoud.l

For at least 15 years, Balkan and his followers have displayed an affinity for violence. In 2006, Balkan and six others attacked a Serbian man in the Bosnian town of Brcko.79 Bosnian authorities also believed that Balkan influenced Haris Causevic, a Bosnian jihadi-terrorist who visited Balkan’s sermons several times before he killed one police officer in a 2010 bomb attack on the police station of Bugojno.80 One year later, Bosnian media alleged Balkan had radicalized the perpetrator of the 2011 U.S. Embassy attack in Sarajevo, Mevlid Jasarevic, who lived temporarily in Vienna, although Balkan vehemently denied these allegations.81 What is clear is that in the last decade, Balkan’s Milet-Ibrahim mosque was repeatedly frequented by known jihadi terrorists, including Mohamed Mahmoud and Lorenz K.,82 a subsequently convicted member of a German-Austrian jihadi group that plotted attacks on a Christmas market in Ludwigshafen, Germany, and the Viennese metro system in 2016.m Balkan was arrested in January 2017 for recruiting several Austro-Bosnian families from the Taqwa Mosque in Graz for the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.83 In March 2020, Balkan was sentenced to five years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization, membership in a criminal organization, and anti-state association.84

Although there is a high likelihood that Vienna attacker Kujtim Fejzulai and several of his friends knew Balkan, no details of possible connections have come to light to date. The question over whether Fejzulai knew Mahmoud and Lorenz K. (the latter of who at least for a period of time remained active in prison by secretly acquiring a mobile phone to contact other radicals in the summer of 202085) also cannot yet be answered. However, the existing information provides a sense of the ideological environment in which Fejzulai and his friends radicalized.

Despite these mosques becoming a meeting place for Fejzulai’s friendship circle—mostly men in their early 20s and mostly men with an Albanian, Turkish, or Chechen family background—many in his circle knew each other before they became radicalized. An analysis of open sources online revealed that some of Fejzulai’s friends, including Fejzulai himself, played soccer together in Vienna; others were classmates in St. Pölten, a town close to Vienna.86

Fejzulai and most of his friendship group were known by security and intelligence services as belonging to the jihadi milieu. Several of them were the subject of criminal investigations before the Vienna attack.87 A Bangladeshi national named Istiaque A., for instance, was sentenced in December 2020 to two years in prison for membership in a terrorist organization, sharing Islamic State propaganda, and inciting violence. In 2018, Istiaque A. had started to socialize with members of the Fejzulai friendship group and Fejzulai made him an administrator of his Telegram channel.88 Accused by the prosecutors of having incited Fejzulai to join the Islamic State, Istiaque A. admitted that he was in touch with Fejzulai during Fejzulai’s time in Turkey but claimed that he (Istiaque A.) had left the jihadi milieu already in 2019.89

This person was among the individuals who were arrested a day after the attack due to their potential ties to Fejzulai. Almost three years ago, a 22-year-old convert whose identity cannot be disclosed because of privacy considerations stood trial along with three Chechens for planning in the summer of 2015 to rob a gun shop and attack a police station in St. Pölten. The group admitted that they received instructions by an Islamic State member in Syria after they sent him their oath of loyalty.90 The plan ultimately failed due to an anonymous warning to the Austrian Ministry of Interior that became public.91 Interestingly, the group was only identified at the beginning of 2017, in connection to the investigation into Lorenz K.92

For now, only a little information has come to light helping to answer the question to what extent friends of Fejzulai were possibly involved in the attack. All of Fejzulai’s contacts who have been placed under investigation have either denied any involvement in the attack or being aware of it beforehand.93 Some of Fejzulai’s friends recognized him as the attacker in the videos posted on social media during the evening of the attack and, on the recommendation of members of the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria (IGGÖ), subsequently informed the police.94 One associate of Fejzulai even claimed that he tried to reach Fejzulai by phone to talk him out of the attack.95 Another of his companions, however, reportedly did not inform the police when he saw the photo and bay`a of Fejzulai that circulated online before the attack.96 The car Fejzulai used to drive to Bratislava in his failed attempt to obtain weapons in July 2020 belonged to the mother of one of his associates under investigation, and another friend joined him on the trip to Slovakia.97

Investigators are unsure how Fejzulai reached the city center from his apartment on the night of the attack and still have not ruled out that he may have been driven by a friend.98 Recently, a forensic report found traces of DNA from seven different people, including two women, on the weapons used by Fejzulai.99 So far, two of these individuals have been identified and arrested: a 26-year-old Afghan and an individual of Chechen origin.100 According to Austrian media, the former has family members who left for jihad in Syria.101

The International Network of the Vienna Attacker
Local clusters of jihadi extremists often share transregional and transnational connections to other radicals forming geographically far-reaching networks based on shared ethnicity and language.102 In Austria, this is especially the case for Islamist extremists within the Balkan diaspora in Vienna, Graz, and elsewhere. Austria’s importance as an international hub for jihadi support activities became evident in the early 1990s when Islamic charities used their offices in Vienna to channel fighters, funds, and equipment to the foreign mujahideen who fought alongside regular combat units against the Serbian and Croatian armies.103

After the Bosnian War (1992-1995), a number of Bosnian salafis who had immigrated as foreign workers or refugees to Austria, Germany, and Switzerland played a key role in establishing salafi enclave communities in the Bosnian countryside such as the infamous Donja Bocinja and Gornja Maoca.104 Commuting between the Balkans and Western Europe, they collected money among fellow brethren in the diaspora, facilitated the purchase of property, and often chose these enclaves as secondary residences.105 These connections remained relevant for the mobilization of foreign fighters with Bosnian origin to Syria in the last decade as research by Vlado Azinovic and Muhamed Jusic showed: many of the Bosnian foreign fighters they analyzed were linked to the diaspora in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.106

Close connections to other German-speaking countries—partly because of homeland diaspora connections—is another aspect of the internationalization of the Austrian jihad. As described above, Nedzad Balkan, Mirsad Omerovic, and other Austria-based preachers played a key role in spreading the ideas of leading jihadi ideologues in German-speaking Europe.

Even by the age of 20, Fejzulai had built up a transnational network of contacts. The earliest clear evidence of Fejzulai making connections with jihadis abroad can be found during his short stay in Turkey in the fall of 2018. While he stayed in the Islamic State safe house in Hatay, Fejzulai made contact with two Germans and a Belgian also seeking to become foreign terrorist fighters.107 The arrests of Ramazan O. (Ebu Haris), the owner of a salafi bookshop-turned-mosque, and a dozen other individuals in Izmir in connection to the Vienna attack suggest Fejzulai also established ties to Turkish extremists around this time (fall 2018) or later. There is, however, little open-source information on these connections.108 His ties to Islamist extremists from Turkey, including his friend Burak K. from Vienna (who he had looked to travel to Afghanistan with), may be one of the reasons why Fejzulai consumed videos and lectures by the German-Turkish salafi organization “Im Auftrag des Islam” and other sympathizers of the pro-Islamic State preacher Halis Bayancuk (Ebu Hanzala).109

There is more detailed information about the Vienna attacker’s ties to extremists in Europe. Fejzulai and his friendship group in Vienna developed close ties to Islamist extremists in Germany and Switzerland. One day after the Vienna attack, German police raided the apartments of five individuals from Bremen, Pinneberg (near Hamburg), Kassel, and Osnabrück. While one 18-year-old man was not directly tied to Fejzulai, the other four were in touch with the Vienna attacker.110 One of Fejzulai’s four contacts in Germany was an individualn who had been part of jihadi circles in Germany since the summer of 2015. In March 2016, this individual (hereafter referred to as Fejzulai’s Germany contact) attended a seminar given by the jihadi preacher Abu Walaa in Hildesheim. An allegedly high-ranking Islamic State member, Abu Walaa currently faces charges for recruiting foreign terrorist fighters and was linked to several terrorists such as the 2016 Berlin Christmas market attacker Anis Amri.111 During the event, Fejzulai’s Germany contact made notes about staying fit, making farewell pictures, deleting computer data, and other tasks that investigators believed to be a to-do list for emigrating to the Islamic State.112 In April 2017, Fejzulai’s Germany contact and six others were arrested in Bulgaria en route to the Islamic State in Syria and subsequently sentenced by a German court to several months in prison.113 After his release in the summer of 2019, Fejzulai’s Germany contact moved to Vienna but was deported to Germany only a few weeks before the Vienna attack.114 Fejzulai’s Germany contact met Fejzulai shortly after arriving in Vienna, and both stayed in touch via WhatsApp after Fejzulai’s Germany contact returned to Germany.115

In Switzerland, officers of the federal and cantonal police arrested two associates of Fejzulai on the morning after the Vienna attack. Eighteen-year-old Besar D. and 24-year-old convert-to-Islam Davide C. were detained in Winterthur, a town near Zurich that has been a hot spot for jihadi radicalization in Switzerland.116 For several years, Davide C. had belonged to a radical youth group with around 40 members, which used to meet at the infamous An-Nur mosque.117 A dozen visitors of the mosque left for Syria in the first half of the 2010s. Most of them were younger than 20 years old and influenced by charismatic role models such as Sandro V., an extremist known as the “emir of Winterthur,” and a former Thai boxing world champion named Valdet Gashi. Interestingly, Vienna-based Mirsad Omerovic became a very important religious authority for the radical youth group at the An-Nur mosque. Since 2012, the youth group’s leaders, Sandro V. and Gashi, regularly communicated with Omerovic who shared their passion for martial arts.118 A facilitation network associated with Omerovic most likely also helped some foreign fighters from Winterthur to reach the Islamic State.119 When Omerovic was arrested in November 2014, members of the Winterthur group, especially younger ones, gravitated toward Abu Walaa and began attending his seminars in Hildesheim.120

It seems that Davide C. and Besar D. radicalized around the same time as most foreign fighters left Winterthur. Since at least 2015, Besar D., according to his YouTube account, watched lectures by salafi preachers such as Shefqet Krasniqi. Although most of their fellow brethren from the An-Nur mosque who left for the Islamic State died in Syria or Iraq, the youth group continued to exist. One of the only returnees, Visar L. (who was 16 years old when he departed with his teenage sister to Syria in December 2014) became the youth group’s new leader after what appears to have been a short-lived disengagement from militant salafism.121 Both Davide C. and Besar D. were known to the authorities and the subject of criminal investigations in recent years. Davide C. and other members of the Winterthur youth group stood trial in 2018 for kidnapping and attacking an investigative journalist at the an-Nur mosque in November 2016.122 After the trial, Davide C. moved with his wife to Turkey, but in early 2020, he was deported because Turkish authorities considered him a potential security risk.123 It should be also noted that in 2019, several cantonal and federal law enforcement agencies launched a major counterterrorism operation targeting six suspects from the cantons of Zurich, Berne, and Schaffhausen who belonged to the Winterthur youth group.124

Members of Fejzulai’s transnational network not only communicated online but also met in person. A case in point—a meeting in Vienna in July 2020 has already been noted in this article. Between July 16 and 20, 2020 (one day before Fejzulai and a friend drove to Bratislava in their failed attempt to obtain weapons), Fejzulai, Istiaque A., and at least two other members of Fejzulai’s Vienna friendship group hosted the Winterthur duo of Davide C. and Besar D. in the Austrian capital as well as two individuals identified as Drilon G. from the German town of Kassel and Blinor S. from the German town of Osnabrück. They picked up their guests from the airport, visited several mosques, dined together, and slept at Fejzulai’s apartment.125 Most of this meeting was observed by Austrian authorities; the observation was then dropped one day later, however.126

Two weeks later, Burak K. (the Austrian-Turkish extremist who had sought to travel to Afghanistan with Fejzulai) and other Turkish members of the Fejzulai’s Vienna friendship group traveled to Hanau, near Frankfurt.127 They later claimed that they wanted to visit a friend of Burak K.,128 but it is worth noting the Hesse city has for many years been home to a group of radical salafis of Turkish origin at the local Baraa mosque, which was closed in 2015.129

At the time of publication, there is no open-source information on whether any of the international contacts of Fejzulai in Germany and Switzerland knew about his attack beforehand or even helped him. However, it seems that his wide-ranging connections made it possible to acquire the necessary tools for his terrorist activities in the years before his attack. A few days after the Vienna attack, Italian police arrested a 35-year-old Chechen asylum seeker named Turko Arsimekov in Varese near the Swiss-Italian border. It seems that Arsimekov was not a jihadi extremist but rather a petty criminal who ran a distribution center for forged passports and identity cards in Europe with two Ukrainian men.130 Authorities suspected Arsimekov was part of a Balkan-Chechen cell connected to Fejzulai.131 According to prosecutors in Milan and counterterrorism officials, Arsimekov not only provided forged documents to “the cell” of Fejzulai, but frequently provided Fejzulai’s group with small sums of money so they could purchase weapons.o


A memorial for the victims of the Vienna terrorist attack is seen on November 6, 2020, four days after the attack. (Leopold Nekula/AP Images)

Open-source information on the Vienna attacker’s network is still limited. However, the available information suggests that to some extent, Fejzulai’s network revolved around hubs that in previous years had been notorious for their involvement in foreign fighter recruitment. It seems as if these hubs partly remained connected after the arrest of their most prominent figures. A significant number of the individuals in this network, including the perpetrator of the Vienna attack, can be categorized as “frustrated jihadi travelers.” During the heyday of the so-called Islamic State, ties to this network provided important opportunity structures for foreign fighters from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. It is not yet clear what role, if any this network played in the preparations for the Vienna attack.

An important nuance to the discussion on the threat posed by frustrated travelers, including those set to be released from prison in the coming years, is that former FTFs and their family members, who stood trial in Austria after fleeing from the former territory of the Islamic State, in court appeared genuinely disillusioned by the caliphate project. This was, in part, due to the way they had been treated by Islamic State leadership, especially when the situation became ever more tense in the territory.132 Cases such as the one of Fejzulai on the other hand demonstrate what the frustration of not being able to physically join the Islamic State might lead to.

What lessons can be learned from the Vienna attack for the prevention of violent extremism, both on the part of the authorities and on the part of NGOs involved in prevention, deradicalization, and disengagement? In the aftermath of the attack, there was finger-pointing between the different organizations involved in these efforts. As a matter of fact, since the attack, there have been fewer failures that have come to light in Fejzulai’s case with regard to the involvement of the justice system and the NGOs it mandates than with regard to the police and the BVT.133 Although it was not a surprise that an individual from the jihadi milieu in Austria resorted to violent means, it is still troubling that someone who was convicted of membership in a terrorist organization and was part of a deradicalization and probation program was able to carry out an attack. It is all the more so given that foreign security agencies pointed Austrian authorities toward Fejzulai due to his links with members of the jihadi movement in Germany as well an attempt he made to acquire ammunition after his release from prison.

Fejzulai’s trajectory from a failed foreign fighter who was sentenced for his attempt to join the Islamic State to the perpetrator of a terrorist attack in Austria’s capital shows that Austria’s deradicalization and disengagement efforts are far from perfect. Even though Derad, which has counseled more than 140 individuals who were imprisoned for jihadi related offenses since 2016,134 increased employees from two to 13 in the last four years,135 resources allocated to deradicalization and disengagement are still not sufficient. A study conducted in 2017 concluded that the work of deradicalization programs in Austria has to be professionalized and expanded in order to measure up to the challenges they are confronting.136

Furthermore, deradicalization and disengagement efforts during and after incarceration should be substantially expanded. The cooperation of different professionals, such as psychologists, psychotherapists, Islamic pastoral counselors, and social workers, is indispensable: Just as individual radicalization processes are multifactorial, so should be the approach to deradicalization and disengagement. Such an approach should involve case conferences in which the different actors have the opportunity to share their expertise and communicate with each other. Also important is continued counseling for individuals convicted for terrorism-related charges after their release from prison and after the end of any period of probation. Since 2014, 120 inmates in Austria who were imprisoned for offenses related to jihadi terrorism have left prison.137 The mandate of institutions such as Derad ends with the prison term and/or the period of probation.

The fact that a well-connected jihadi sympathizer was able to carry out an attack of such a scope suggests significant failures on the part of the authorities. Fejzulai was part of a transnational network of sympathizers, some of whom had been convicted or suspected of crimes related to terrorism. Taking into account the history and the connectivity of jihadi networks in Austria, the focus of the authorities prompts questions. As already noted, while the BVT observed the meeting of Fejzulai and sympathizers from Germany and Switzerland in Vienna between July 16 and 20, 2020,138 why was the observation stopped one day later, just before Fejzulai would go to Slovakia to buy ammunition?139

After receiving information on the attacker’s attempt to acquire ammunition, an official in charge of the Vienna’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism recommended a higher level of risk assessment for Fejzulai, which was reportedly disregarded due to an ongoing operation against the Muslim Brotherhood.140 The raid against alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood was carried out one week after the attack.141 The chronology of events thus suggests that resources were put into an investigation on proceedings without imminent danger,142 instead of further investigating a transnational jihadi networking get-together that ended in an attempt to buy ammunition.143

In the aftermath of the attack, the Austrian government introduced a draft bill to combat terrorism, which among other things includes a new statutory offense: “religiously motivated extremist association.”144 However, it is worth noting that given what is known so far about the Vienna attacker’s case, the attack likely could have been prevented by resorting to existing laws. Measures on the basis of these laws, such as intensified surveillance and arrest, could have prevented the attack, if risk assessment, internally within BVT, as well as communication between BVT and prosecutors had functioned properly.145

According to a BVT employee, 70-150 highly radicalized individuals from the jihadi spectrum currently live in Austria.146 Almost 100 individuals living in Austria are (as of late 2020) willing to join the Islamic State abroad.147 The events of November 2, 2020, demonstrated the dangers they and the networks they belong to pose.     CTC

Dr. des. Johannes Saal is a sociologist of religion and political scientist. He currently works as a research assistant at the Center for Religion, Economy, and Politics, University of Lucerne, Switzerland. Twitter: @johannes_saal

Felix Lippe is a psychologist and political scientist. He works as a scientific fellow for the Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology and as scientific coordinator for Turn, a civil society organization for the prevention of violence and extremism. Twitter: @Felix__Natal

© 2021 Johannes Saal, Felix Lippe

Substantive Notes
[a] On September 25, 2020, an Islamist extremist injured two people in a stabbing attack outside the former headquarter of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. On October 16, 2020, an 18-year-old Chechen Islamist extremist murdered and decapitated a French teacher who showed cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo to his students. On October 29, 2020, a Tunisian Islamist extremist murdered three individuals in Notre-Dame of Nice. See Antony Paone, “For a teacher in France, a civics class was followed by a gruesome death,” Reuters, October 17, 2020; Zoe Tidman and Lizzie Dearden, “Macron vows to deploy soldiers across France after attacks in Nice and Avignon,” Independent, October 30. 2020.

[b] On October 4, 2020, a 20-year-old Syrian jihadi extremist attacked a gay couple in Dresden, killing one and injuring another man. See Florian Flade, Georg Mascolo, and Ronen Steinke, “BND wurde vor Islamist gewarnt – und gab Warnung nicht weiter,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 29, 2020.

[c] Simcox and Stuart add that “if individuals who had a prior criminal record for criminal behavior interpreted as extremism-related but not terrorism-related are included, the rate of recidivism posed by jihadi prisoners/prison leavers—and subsequent scale of the threat—is appreciably higher.” Robin Simcox and Hannah Stuart, “The Threat from Europe’s Jihadi Prisoners and Prison Leavers,” CTC Sentinel 13:7 (2020).

[d] The final report of the expert enquiry commission on the Vienna attack stated that since 2016, all correctional facilities have had to cooperate with Derad when reintegrating extremist offenders. Ingeborg Zerbes, Herbert Anderl, Hubertus Andra, Franz Merli, Werner Pleischl, with Monika Stempkowski, “Abschlussbericht der Untersuchungskommission zum Terroranschlag vom 02.11.2020,” February 10, 2021.

[e] The authors have monitored the online presence of Im Auftrag des Islam (IADI) since 2015. According to the authors’ observations, IADI is a salafi group based in the town of Sontra in the German state of Hesse that can be considered the successor of the banned Milli Görüs (MG) splinter organization Kalifatstaat. The Milli Görüs movement belongs to the Turkish Islamist Saadet Party. Due to ideological conflicts within MG, Cemaleddin Kaplan founded Kalifatstaat in Cologne in 1994 with the goal of establishing a state ruled by sharia law. After the 9/11 attacks, the organization was banned by the German Ministry of Interior. See “Beschluss vom 02. Oktober 2003 – 1 BvR 536/03. Karlsuhe,” Bundesverfassungsgericht, October 2, 2003. According to the authors’ observations, IADI—in the ideological tradition of the Kalifatstaat—played a prominent role in recent years in the ideological conflict within the German-speaking salafi/jihadi milieu. Despite rejecting the Islamic State, members of the group praised the Turkish-Kurdish pro-Islamic State preacher Ebu Hanzala and were occasionally linked to terrorist plots.

[f] Halis Bayancuk is a Turkish national of Kurdish origin who Turkish authorities labeled as al-Qa`ida’s and later the Islamic State’s leader in Turkey. He has been arrested several times for his alleged involvement in terrorism (such as the 2015 Suruç bombing) and the recruitment of jihadi foreign fighters. It is noteworthy that Bayancuk was sentenced to 12 years in prison just weeks before the Vienna attack. Kasim Cindemir, “Turkey’s ‘Islamic State Leader’ Is Arrested Once Again,” Voice of America, March 8, 2017; Emre Ayvaz, “Turkey jails senior Daesh/ISIS terrorist for 12+ years,” Anadolu Agency, September 18, 2020.

[g] The Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism (BVT)

[h] A recent U.N. report stated that Fejzulai belonged to the terrorist group “Lions of the Balkans,” which it described as “an international network composed of elements based in at least Austria, Germany, Switzerland and western Balkan countries.” However, this was the first time the group’s name appeared in a public document, and the authors and other experts they consulted were not aware of the group before. Interestingly, the United Nations also stated that the “Lions of the Balkans” were linked through Komron Zukhurov to the Tajik “Takim” cell in Germany that allegedly plotted attacks on U.S. and NATO military facilities. To finance their plot, the Takim cell allegedly accepted the contract killing of an Albanian businessman in Albania. Like Fejzulai’s group, the Takim cell allegedly belonged to a transnational network of Islamic State members, which in the case of the Takim cell reportedly included links to individuals in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Sweden, and France. Given Kujtim’s North Macedonian background, it is interesting that the U.N. report stated that “three returnees belonging to the ‘Lions of the Balkans’ were arrested in North Macedonia on 1 September 2020 after being enrolled in a reintegration programme, released from prison and then detected to be involved in the final planning stage of a terrorist attack.” “Twenty-seventh report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals and entities,” United Nations Security Council, February 3, 2021; Nodirbek Soliev, “The April 2020 Islamic State Terror Plot Against U.S. and NATO Military Bases in Germany: The Tajik Connection,” CTC Sentinel 14:1 (2021).

[i] After studying sharia law in Saudi Arabia, Vienna-based Serbian national Mirsad Omerovic (aka Ebu Tejma) became in the early 2010s one of the most prominent jihadi preachers in German-speaking Europe and the Balkans. According to the authors’ research, a facilitation network associated with Omerovic helped dozens of foreign fighters from Austria (Vienna, Graz), Germany (Bremen, Weiden, Munich, Stuttgart), and Switzerland (Winterthur) to reach Syria. Arrested at the end of 2014, Omerovic was sentenced by an Austrian court in 2016 to 20 years in prison for recruiting at least 50 of his mostly young followers as foreign fighters. See Elisalex Henckel, “Österreichs ‘Gotteskrieger‘ in aktuellen Zahlen,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, April 1, 2016.

[j] However, despite the accusations, it was never proven that Porca’s book contained passages justifying and inciting violence. Damir Imamovic, “Wiener Extremisten-Connection,” Der Standard, February 7, 2010.

[k] Omerovic, for instance, firstly visited Balkan’s mosque but later started to frequent the Altun Alem mosque because Balkan became too radical even for him. Elisalex Henkel, “Der radikale Prediger im Sold des Stadtschulrats,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung Österreich, March 20, 2016.

[l] Mohamed Mahmoud’s father was a follower of the Egyptian Gama’a Islamiya and preached at the As-Sahabe mosque in Vienna, which became a focal point of Austrian salafism, although more radical members like Mohamed Mahmoud and Balkan left due to ideological conflicts. After serving a prison sentence for founding the German section of the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), Mahmoud moved at the beginning of the 2010s to Germany where he founded the jihadi youth organization Millatu Ibrahim. A few years later, Mahmoud became somewhat of the informal leader of German-speaking foreign fighters within the Islamic State. Due to internal ideological conflicts within the Islamic State, Mahmoud was detained by the Islamic State in 2018 due to ideological conflicts within the Islamic State. In November 2018, he was killed in an airstrike on the Islamic State prison where he was detained. Marion Kraske and Yassin Musharbash, “Wiener Propaganda-Zelle besuchte radikale Moschee,” Spiegel Online, September 26, 2007; Stefan Malthaner and Klaus Hummel, “Die ‘Sauerland-Gruppe’ und ihr soziales Umfeld,” in Stefan Malthaner and Peter Waldmann eds., Radikale Milieus. Das soziale Umfeld terroristischer Gruppen (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2012); Lars Wienand, “Hassprediger aus erstem deutschen IS-Video getötet,” T-Online, November 28, 2018.

[m] Interestingly, Lorenz K. sent his bay`a (oath of loyalty) to none other than Mohamed Mahmoud in Syria. “Anklageschrift Lorenz K.,” Staatsanwaltschaft Wien, Vienna, January 3, 2018.

[n] Due to privacy considerations, the authors decided anonymize this individual.

[o] Journalist Cesare Giuzzi even speculates that the Balkan-Chechen cell also had links to the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty by Abdoullakh Abuyezidvich Anzorov and the perpetrator of the Nice church attack, Brahim Aoussaoui. Cesare Giuzzi, “Arrestato il ‘falsario’ Turko Arsimekov: ha fornito documenti al terrorista di Vienna,” Corriere Della Sera, November 12, 2020.

[1] See, for instance, Miryam Davolio, Mallory Purdie, Fabien Merz, Johannes Saal, and Ayesha Rether, Updated review and developments in jihadist radicalisation in Switzerland – updated version of an exploratory study on prevention and intervention (Zurich: Zurich University of Applied Sciences, 2019).

[2] See, for instance, Wolfgang Rössler and Christine Login, “Die neuen islamistischen Terroristen brauchen keinen IS,” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, November 9, 2020, and Florian Flade and Volkmar Kabisch, “Ein Netzwerk und eine neue Generation,” Tagesschau, November 11, 2020.

[3] Maher Chmaytelli, Stephen Kalin, and Ali Abdelaty, “Islamic State calls for attacks on the West during Ramadan in audio message,” Reuters, May 21, 2016.

[4] Author (Johannes Saal) tracking of German pro-Islamic State Telegram channels in 2016; Johannes Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals. Jihadi Networks and Mobilization in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, 1998-2018 (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, forthcoming).

[5] Raffaello Pantucci, “A View From the CT Foxhole: Gilles de Kerchove, European Union (EU) Counter-Terrorism Coordinator,” CTC Sentinel 13:8 (2020).

[6] Victor H. Asal, Na’ama Nagar, and Karl R. Rethemeyer, “Building Terrorism from Social Ties: The Dark Side of Social Capital,” Civil Wars 16:4 (2014): pp. 402-424; Sean F. Everton, “Social Networks and Religious Violence,” Review of Religious Research 48 (2016): pp. 191-217; Fernando Reinares, Carola Garcia-Calvo, and Vicente Alvaro, “Differential Association Explaining Jihadi Radicalization in Spain: A Quantitative Study,” CTC Sentinel 10:6 (2017); Stefan Malthaner, “Spaces, Ties, and Agency: The Formation of Radical Networks,” Perspectives on Terrorism 12:2 (2018): pp. 32-43; Mohammed M. Hafez, “The Ties that Bind: How Terrorists Exploit Family Bonds,” CTC Sentinel 9:2 (2016).

[7] Donatella della Porta, Clandestine Political Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Jacob N. Shapiro, The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013); Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals.

[8] Robin Simcox, “When Terrorists Stay Home: The Evolving Threat to Europe from Frustrated Travelers,” CTC Sentinel 12:6 (2019).

[9] Robin Simcox and Hannah Stuart, “The Threat from Europe’s Jihadi Prisoners and Prison Leavers,” CTC Sentinel 13:7 (2020).

[10] Thomas Renard, “Overblown: Exploring the Gap Between the Fear of Terrorist Recidivism and the Evidence,” CTC Sentinel 13:4 (2020).

[11] Vanessa Gaigg, Katharina Mittelstaedt, Johannes Pucher, and Fabian Sommavilla, “Neun Minuten: Die Geschichten einer Nacht voller Heldentaten und Terror in Wien,” Der Standard, November 6, 2020.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Walter Mayr, “Endstation Bermudadreieck,” Der Spiegel, December 24, 2020.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Verdict [in the case] of Kujtim Fejzulai and Burak K.,” Criminal Court of Vienna, May 6, 2019.

[20] Eva Konzett, Florian Klenk, and Lukas Matzinger, “Die Protokolle einer mörderischen Radikalisierung,” Falter, November 10, 2020.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Mayr.

[23] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger.

[24] Ingeborg Zerbes, Herbert Anderl, Hubertus Andra, Fraz Merli, Werner Pleischl, with Monika Stempkowski, “Zwischenbericht. Untersuchungskommission zum Terroranschlag vom 02.11.2020,” December 22, 2020.

[25] Ibid.; Michael Möseneder, “Terror in Wien: Der Attentäter musste sich schon 2019 vor Gericht verantworten,” Der Standard, November 3, 2020.

[26] “Verdict [in the case] of Kujtim Fejzulai and Burak K.”

[27] Ibid.

[28] “Viyana Saldırısını Gerçeklestiren Teröristin Türkiye’den Sınır Dısı Edildigi Ortaya Çıktı,” Emniyet Genel Müdürlügü, November 8, 2020.

[29] Simcox.

[30] “Verfassungsschutzbericht 2019,” Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz und Terrorismusbekämpfung, Vienna, 2020.

[31] Author (Felix Lippe) observation in 2017 of court trials involving §278b. §278b of the Austrian Criminal Code penalizes the membership in a terrorist organization with one to 15 years in prison.

[32] Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals.

[33] “Verdict [in the case] of Kujtim Fejzulai and Burak K.”

[34] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger; Möseneder, “Terror in Wien: Der Attentäter musste sich schon 2019 vor Gericht verantworten.”

[35] Zerbes et al. (2020).

[36] Derad website.

[37] Zerbes et al (2020).

[38] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger.

[39] Zerbes et al (2020).

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Thomas Hoisl, “Wie der Wien-Attentäter im Deradikalisierungs-Programm eingestuft wurde,” Profil, November 7, 2020.

[44] Zerbes et al (2020).

[45] Hoisl; Florian Klenk, Eva Konzett, and Lukas Matzinger, “Vom Beserlpark ins Kalifat,” Falter, November 18, 2020.

[46] Hoisl.

[47] Zerbes et al (2020).

[48] Hoisl.

[49] Klenk, Konzett, and Matzinger.

[50] Zerbes et al (2020).

[51] Ibid.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Mayr.

[54] Zerbes et al (2020).

[55] Jörg Diehl, Roman Lehberger, Fidelius Schmid, Ansgar Siemens, and Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt, “Terroranschlag in Wien: Razzien bei deutschen Islamisten,” Der Spiegel, November 6, 2020.

[56] Klenk, Konzett, and Matzinger.

[57] Zerbes et al (2020); Gabriele Scherndl and Fabian Schmid, “BVT plante laut Akten Maßnahmen gegen Attentäter, war aber andersweitig beschäftigt,” Der Standard, November 14, 2020.

[58] Zerbes et al (2020).

[59] Ibid.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid.

[62] Klenk, Konzett, and Matzinger.

[63] “Terror in Wien: Täter hatte Wohnung für Feuergefecht vorbereitet,” Kurier, November 11, 2020.

[64] Mayr.

[65] Björn Stritzel, “Hauptverdächtiger kündigte Tat auf Instagram an,” Bild, November 3, 2020.

[66] “IS-Terrormiliz reklamiert Anschlag in Wien für sich,” Deutsche Welle, November 4, 2020.

[67] “Vienna terror attack: Police investigating 21 potential accomplices,” Deutsche Welle, November 13, 2020.

[68] Diehl, Lehberger, Schmid, Siemens, and Wiedmann-Schmidt; Kurt Pelda, “Verbindungen nach Österreich und Deutschland – Das Netzwerk der Winterthurer Salafisten,” SonntagsZeitung, November 8, 2020; “Ünlü,’ ‘silahlanıyorlar’ demisti Selefi Vasat Kitabevi’nin sahibi Ebu Haris’in aralarında bulundugu 11 kisi gözaltına alındı,” Cumhuriyet, December 3, 2020; Cesare Giuzzi, “Arrestato il ‘falsario’ Turko Arsimekov: ha fornito documenti al terrorista di Vienna,” Corriere Della Sera, November 12, 2020.

[69] Edith Meinhart, “Wiener Islamisten Szene: ‘Schwach halt, ein Mitläufer,’” Profil, December 8, 2020.

[70] Fabian Schmid and Jan Michael Marchart, “Wiener Attentäter besuchte dieselbe Moschee wie Bombenbastler Lorenz K.,” Der Standard, November 4, 2020.

[71] Anes Alic, “Foreign Jihadis Face Deportation in Bosnia-Herzegovina,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 5:21 (2007); Damir Imamovic, “Wiener Extremisten-Connection,” Der Standard, February 7, 2010.

[72] Joseph Gepp and Stefan Apfl, “Die Spur eines Verwirrten,” Die Zeit, October 11, 2007.

[73] Author (Felix Lippe) interview, local social worker, January 2020.

[74] Juan Carlos Antunez, “Wahhabism in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Part One,” Bosnian Institute, September 16, 2008.

[75] Ibid.

[76] Guido Steinberg, “Gutachten zur ideologischen Ausrichtung des Glaubensvereins at-Taqwa in Graz,” Berlin, May 2017.

[77] Stefan Malthaner and Klaus Hummel, “Die ‘Sauerland-Gruppe’ und ihr soziales Umfeld,” in Stefan Malthaner and Peter Waldmann eds., Radikale Milieus. Das soziale Umfeld terroristischer Gruppen (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag, 2012); Steinberg, “Gutachten zur ideologischen Ausrichtung des Glaubensvereins at-Taqwa in Graz.”

[78] Steinberg, “Gutachten zur ideologischen Ausrichtung des Glaubensvereins at-Taqwa in Graz.”

[79] Anes Alic, “Investigation into Backgrounds of Bosnians Involved in Vienna Plot,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 4:32 (2007); Wienand.

[80] Anes Alic, “Nedzad Balkan: The Face of Southeastern Europe’s Newest Radical Threat,” Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor, January 31, 2011.

[81] “Wiener Prediger streitet Kontakt zu Jasarevic ab,” Die Presse, November 7, 2011.

[82] Meinhart.

[83] “Beschluss 12 Os 139/17h,” Oberster Gerichtshof Republik Österreich, Vienna, December 17, 2017.

[84] Guido Steinberg, “Die ‘Takfiristen’. Eine salafistisch-jihadistische Teilströmung gewinnt an Bedeutung,” SWP-Aktuell 2021/A 09, January 2021.

[85] Schmid and Marchart.

[86] The details in this paragraph are from open-source information collected by the authors.

[87] Zerbes et al (2020).

[88] Michael Möseneder, “Terrorprozess: Haft für Musikliebhaber und Attentäterfreund,” Der Standard, December 21, 2020.

[89] Ibid.

[90] “Mutmaßliche IS-Terroristen planten Attentat in St. Pölten,” Kurier, February 13, 2018.

[91] Ibid.

[92] Ibid.

[93] Scherndl and Schmid.

[94] Ibid.

[95] Ibid.

[96] Klenk, Konzett, and Matzinger.

[97] Scherndl and Schmid.

[98] Herwig G. Höller, Garbiele Scherndl, and Fabian Schmid, “Einzeltätertheorie gerät ins Wanken: Wie kam der Attentäter in die Innere Stadt?” Der Standard, November 9, 2020; Edith Meinhard, Thomas Hoisl, and Stefan Melichar, “Terrorermittlungen: Neue Details zu mysteriösem Video,” Profil, November 21, 2020.

[99] “Anschlag: Auch weibliche DNA auf Tatwaffen,” Österreichischer Rundfunk, January 7, 2021.

[100] “Anschlag in Wien: U-Haft für zwei Verdächtige,” Kronen Zeitung, December 21, 2020.

[101] Ibid.

[102] Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals.

[103] Evan F. Kohlmann, Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe. The Afghan-Bosnian Network (New York: Oxford, 2004); John R. Schindler, Unholy Terror. Bosnia, Al-Qa’ida, and the Rise of Global Jihad (St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2007); Shaul Shay, Islamic Terror and the Balkans (London: Transaction Publishers, 2007).

[104] Vlado Azinovic and Muhamed Jusic, The New Lure of the Syrian War – The Foreign Fighters’ Bosnian Contingent (Sarajevo: Atlantic Initiative, 2016); Asya Metodieva, “The Radical Milieu and Radical Influencers of Bosnian Foreign Fighters,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, January 18, 2021.

[105] Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals.

[106] Azinovic and Jusic.

[107] Michael Nikbakhsh and Edith Meinhart, “Terror in Wien: Was wir bisher über Attentäter F. Wissen,” Profil, November 3, 2020.

[108] “Ünlü,’ ‘silahlanıyorlar’ demisti Selefi Vasat Kitabevi’nin sahibi Ebu Haris’in aralarında bulundugu 11 kisi gözaltına alındı.”

[109] Klenk, Konzett, and Matzinger.

[110] Diehl, Lehberger, Schmid, Siemens, and Wiedmann-Schmidt.

[111] Georg Heil, “The Berlin Attack and the ‘Abu Walaa’ Islamic State Recruitment Network,” CTC Sentinel 10:2 (2017).

[112] Diehl, Lehberger, Schmid, Siemens, and Wiedmann-Schmidt.

[113] “Strafverfahren gegen sechs mutmaßliche Salafisten aus Norddeutschland,” Hanseatisches Oberlandesgericht Hamburg, October 10, 2017.

[114] Florian Flade and Cathrin Kahlweit, “Nicht tolerierbare Fehler,” Süddeutsche Zeitung, November 6, 2020.

[115] “Terrorist von Wien hatte Verbindungen nach NRW,” Express, 2020.

[116] Saal, The Dark Social Capital of Religious Radicals.

[117] Pelda, “Verbindungen nach Österreich und Deutschland – Das Netzwerk der Winterthurer Salafisten;” Ivo Mijnssen, Fabian Baumgartner, Florian Schoop, and Christoph Prantner, “Zwei Winterthurer fahren nach Wien und übernachten bei einem Attentäter. Warum?” Neue Zürcher Zeitung, January 29, 2021.

[118] Trial of Sandro V. and Bekim A., Federal Criminal Court, Bellinzona, August 11, 2020.

[119] David Baum and Jost Kaiser, “Ein weggeworfenes Leben,” GQ Magazine, July 8, 2015; Trial of Ahmed J., Federal Criminal Court, Bellinzona, July 14, 2016.

[120] Kurt Pelda, “Winterthurer am Terrorseminar,” Tages-Anzeiger, January 20, 2019.

[121] Pelda, “Verbindungen nach Österreich und Deutschland – Das Netzwerk der Winterthurer Salafisten.”

[122] “Indictment of Mohammed E., Prosecution of Winterthur,” January 29, 2018.

[123] Daniel Glaus and Myriam Reinhard, “Schweizer ‘Kollege’ des Wiener Attentäters aus Türkei ausgewiesen,” Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, November 4, 2020.

[124] “Combating Terrorism: Coordinated Operation,” Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland, October 29, 2019.

[125] “Islamisten-Treffen: Observation nicht fortgesetzt,” Kronen Zeitung, November 9, 2020.

[126] “Auch Schweizer bei Jihadisten-Treff im Juli in Wien,” Die Presse, November 8, 2020; “Observation des Wiener Attentäters kurz vor Slowakeireise abgebrochen,” Der Standard, November 9, 2020.

[127] Clemens Neuhold, “Freunde des Wien-Attentäters auf Deutschland-Besuch,” Profil, November 14, 2020.

[128] Ibid.

[129] Volker Siefert, “Von Hanau aus in den Dschihad,“ Deutschlandfunk, August 6, 2015; Gregor Haschnik, “Stadt schließt Moschee mit Salafisten-Treff,“ Frankfurter Rundschau, November 6, 2015.

[130] Giuzzi; “Vendeva documenti falsi sui social, arrestato ceceno, si segue la pista del terrorismo internazionale,” Repubblica, November 12, 2020.

[131] Giuzzi.

[132] Lippe, “Observation of court trials.”

[133] “Stellungnahme zum Entwurf des Terror-Bekämpfungs-Gesetzes (TeBG),” Institut Fur Rechts- Und Kriminalsoziologie, February 2021.

[134] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger.

[135] Vanessa Gaigg and Gabriele Scherndl, “Wo Deradikalisierung in Österreich Lücken hat,” Der Standard, November 5, 2020.

[136] Veronika Hofinger and Thomas Schmidinger, “Deradikalisierung im Gefängnis. Endbericht zur Begleitforschung,” Institute for the Sociology of Law and Criminology, January 2017.

[137] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger.

[138] “Auch Schweizer bei Jihadisten-Treff im Juli in Wien.”

[139] “Observation des Wiener Attentäters kurz vor Slowakeireise abgebrochen.”

[140] “Liveblog: Terror in Wien: Die aktuellen Entwicklungen,” Profil, November 26, 2020.

[141] Jan Michael Marchart, “Razzia gegen angebliche Muslimbrüder: Eine schlimme Befürchtung,” Der Standard, November 20, 2020.

[142] “Austria: Police raid Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas-linked targets,” Deutsche Welle, November 9, 2020.

[143] Scherndl and Schmid.

[144] “Stellungnahme zum Entwurf des Terror-Bekämpfungs-Gesetzes (TeBG).”

[145] Ibid.

[146] Konzett, Klenk, and Matzinger.

[147] Ibid.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up