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Terrorists Strike in Vienna; Kill Two, Wound 18 in an Attack on a Synagogue

August 31, 1981
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Two people, a 25-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man, were killed and 18 persons were wounded yesterday when two Arab terrorists launched a gun and grenade attack at a synagogue crowded with 200 people attending a Bar Mitzvah.

The woman identified as Ulrike Kohut, was killed when she threw herself on top of a friends’s child to shield him from a grenade moments before it blew up. The man, Lotan Fried, died of shrapnel wounds on his way to the hospital. Among the wounded are a 12-year-old girl and a pregnant woman. Several of the wounded are in serious condition and have been taken to the city hospital’s intensive care unit.

The terrorists were captured after being wounded by police and the bodyguard of a Jewish businessman who happened to arrive at the synagogue shortly before the terrorists opened fire. Both terrorists told police they were acting on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization. One of the men said he was a member of Al Asifa, an extremist terrorist group led by Abu Nidal. This is the same group which claimed last May to have killed Vienna city councillor Heinz Nittel, president of the Austrian-Israeli Friendship Society, and which later threatened the life of Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.


The two terrorists tried to enter the 155-year-old Israelite Temple in the central Vienna area of Seitenstettengasse, one of the oldest areas of the city, wearing yarmulkas and posing as Jews. Two Austrian police guarding the synagogue became suspicious of the duo and asked them for identity papers.

At this point one of the terrorists drew a gun and opened fire on the two policemen wounding both of them, one seriously, while the other terrorist threw a hand grenade against the wall of the synagogue. The attack shattered six windows in the five-story building, sending glass shards and shrapnel into the interior. The building’s facade was pockmarked with holes from what police said were grenade fragments or bullets. There were pools of blood at the front door.

As the terrorists continued to exchange fire with the two wounded policemen, the bodyguard of a local Jewish businessman who arrived at the synagogue minutes before drew his gun and shot one of the terrorists and subdued the other. Police cordoned off the entire area and began a house to house search for possible accomplices and hidden bombs.


According to early reports, three terrorists had been involved in the attack. Police spokesmen later said this was erroneous and that only two were involved. However, police are holding a third person who was arrested in a Vienna apartment soon after the attack but no details are available about this person.

Meanwhile, police today identified the two terrorists as Mohamed Rajih, 21, from Baghdad, and Ali Yussuf, 30. The two said they had not met until just before the attack and had received their instructions by letter, police said. They apparently identified themselves to each other a few minutes before the attack by wearing a red rose and green safari cap. Police guards had been assigned to the synagogue since 1979, when a group calling itself the Eagles of the Palestinian Revolution claimed responsibility for blowing up the synagogue courtyard.


The attack yesterday was the second in less than a month. On Aug. 10 two small bombs exploded in a garden adjacent to the Israel Embassy, slightly injuring a woman. Earlier this month the PLO’s representative here, Ghazi Hussein, was expelled after police said he met two Palestinian gunmen who tried to smuggle guns and hand grenades into Austria.

The two gunmen, who Hussein met at the Vienna airport, were reportedly in contact with Al Asifa. A few days after the gunmen were seized at the airport, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was due to arrive in Salzburg for talks with Kreisky. Sadat, however, cancelled his visit and Interior Minister Erwin Lanc ordered Hussein to pack his bags.

A little less than two weeks ago Al Asifa sent a letter to several Austrian newspapers warning that it intends to commit acts of terrorism in Austria. At the same time, the Saudi Arabian press reported that a high-ranking delegation of Palestinians were planning to come to Austria to normalize relations between Kreisky and the PLO. Kreisky was the first Western leader to have officially received PLO chief Yasir Arafat.

After yesterday’s tragedy, Kreisky said he would not take any steps against Palestinians in Austria. Two weeks ago a straw poll published here showed that a majority of Austrians are critical of the close ties between Kreisky and the PLO. They said they felt that these ties would seve to bring terrorism to the country.


Less than three weeks ago it was disclosed in Jerusalem that Israel had notified European governments that terrorist groups were planning a new wave of attacks against Israeli agencies and installations in Europe. The governments were asked to intensify security at their airports and at land border crossings to bar Palestinian terrorists.

The notification by Israel followed the terrorist attack on the Israel Embassy here, and within a period of days on the El Al office at the Rome airport and the Israel diplomatic mission in Athens. No one was injured in either attack. The PLO claimed responsibility for the Rome attack and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the Athens attack. Israel said at the time that the incidents were coordinated and told the European governments that it believed the terrorists responsible were still in Europe.

See reactions from Israel, P.3.

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