Austria tightens security at churches, citing Vienna attack inquiry

FILE PHOTO: People pay their respects on the site of an Islamist shooting attack in Vienna, Austria, November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria is stepping up security at churches in case of copycat attacks after an Islamist gunman killed four people in a rampage earlier this month in which he may have intended to target houses of worship, the interior minister said on Thursday.

The attacker, a 20-year-old born and raised in Vienna, was shot dead by police after firing on passers-by and bars on Nov. 2. Austria is investigating 21 people and has remanded 10 in custody on suspicion of being connected to the attack.

"The investigation's findings currently show that it cannot be ruled out that the perpetrator also wanted to deliberately seek out victims in churches," Interior Minister Karl Nehammer told a news conference.

"There will therefore be a reinforced protection of church facilities as of today," he said, adding that the aim was to guard against copycat attacks in the "sensitive phase" following the Nov. 2 attack and in the run-up to Christmas.

Much about what happened before the attack, including how the gunman got to the scene of his rampage in the centre of the Austrian capital, remains unknown.

Austrian authorities have admitted "intolerable mistakes" were made in the handling of intelligence on the attacker, which included an attempt to buy ammunition in Slovakia and a meeting in Vienna with known foreign Islamists. They say he could have been considered a greater threat and monitored more closely.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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