Three young men have received praise for their bravery during the deadly gun attack in Vienna on Monday evening.
Mikail Özen and Recep Tayyip Gültekin, both of Turkish heritage, and Palestinian Osama Joda, 23, risked their lives to save two police officers and two women who came under attack from a gunman in the city centre.
The assailant, 20 year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, killed four people and injured 23 others before being shot dead by police.
Mixed martial arts fighters Özen, 25, and Gültekin, 21, told the press they had gone to the city centre for a coffee before the national coronavirus lockdown came into effect. They were greeted with gun shots and wounded people when they arrived at the busy Schwedenplatz Square.
Gültekin rushed to the aid of an injured woman, carrying her to a nearby restaurant, but then found himself the target of the terrorist. The young man tried to escape, but was shot in the calf.
“A pellet from this gun hit the back of my right leg. However, it did not cause any major injury.”
The two men visited a nearby police station to report the incident, and then spotted a distraught elderly woman in shock having witnessed the attack. After helping her to safety, they saw a police officer down and badly injured. He had been shot in the stomach and leg.
With the emergency services fearful of attending the scene due to the live shooting, Özen and Gültekin decided to intervene.
“Other police officers were looking at him (the wounded policeman), they did nothing while I shouted at them for help.”
“I told Mikail: ‘we will do this’. We reached the policeman… We carried the policeman to the ambulance: I was holding his back, and my friend his feet.”
Video footage of their bravery and news about their identity quickly spread online, prompting many to sing their praises.
Two young Viennese men with Turkish background behaved heroically during the terrorist attack in #Vienna: Recep Tayyip Gültekin and Mikail Özen, both MMA fighters, saved an injured police officer from the hail of bullets. pic.twitter.com/F0MjmgL2Jb
— JThiede #EuropeanDiversity 🇩🇪🇬🇧✡️✝️☪️ (@ThiedeJurgen) November 3, 2020
One of the first officials to acknowledge their bravery was Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer (pictured below) who told a press conference on Monday night: “It’s important for me to mention that the injured police officer was brought to safety by two Austrians with an immigrant background.”
The Turkish Ambassador to Vienna Ozan Ceyhun invited the two men to the Turkish Embassy to personally thank them for their heroism.
The two men also received a call from the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said, “we are proud of you.” During the conversation, the President remarked that he shared the same first names as one of the two Turkish heroes.
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also praised the pair, writing on Twitter:
“Last night there were two heroes in Vienna. Recep Tayyip and Mikail did what a true Turk and Muslim is expected to do! Thank you young men. We are proud of you!”
Another young Muslim immigrant, Joda, was also lauded for his bravery in saving an injured officer. A fast food worker, Joda was working in McDonald’s on Schwedenplatz Square when he heard gunshots.
He told Austrian daily Kurier that he had gone to investigate what was happening when he saw a wounded police officer on the street. Joda helped the officer to hide behind a concrete block, and tried to stem his bleeding.
Dün gece Viyana’da iki kahraman vardı. Bir Türk ve Müslümanın yapması gereken neyse onu yaptı.
Recep Tayyip ve Mikail!
Sizlerle GURUR DUYUYORUZ !🇹🇷 https://t.co/R0n4WqWTgo
— Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (@MevlutCavusoglu) November 3, 2020
The Palestinian immigrant managed to alert emergency services about the injured officer and helped him get to a nearby ambulance. Joda said the gunman had continued to shoot people on the street throughout this time.
Following the incident, Vienna Police thanked Joda for his bravery and presented him with an honorary gold medal of merit.
News of the three Muslim men’s heroics on the streets of Vienna went viral and helped to check a tide of Islamophobic and xenophobic posts made in the wake of the Austrian terror attack.
Many had tried to link Turkish President Erdoğan’s recent angry comments about France’s Islamophobia to the latest terror attack on European soil.
Osama Joda, a 23-year-old Palestinian Muslim, risked his life to help a police officer shot by a terrorist in #Vienna during the terror attack.
“I tried to stop his bleeding. There was blood everywhere,” he said when he stepped in to help. pic.twitter.com/sq2nqiNoAx
— Khaled Beydoun (@KhaledBeydoun) November 3, 2020
The Vienna attack follows the stabbing of two people near Charlie Hebdo’s old offices in Paris in September, the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty also in the French capital, and the killing of three more victims in a separate knife attack at the Notre Dame church in Nice.
Fejzulai, the man behind Monday’s terror attack, was described by Austrian authorities as an “Islamist terrorist”. The ethnic Albanian, who held dual Austrian and Macedonian citizenship, had been jailed for 22 months in April 2019 after trying to join Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria.
The 20-year-old had managed to convince prison officials he had been de-radicalised. As a result, Fejzulai was released early last December, benefitting from a scheme that allows leniency for rehabilitated young offenders.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the “repulsive terror attack” was driven by “hatred of our way of life, our democracy”. He stressed Austria was not engaged in a battle between Christians and Muslims, but of one “between civilisation and barbarism.”
Terrorist Kujtim Fejzulai pledged his allegiance to IS in advance of killing 4 people in Vienna on Monday night
— Reuters (@Reuters) November 3, 2020
Çavuşoğlu phoned his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg to express his solidarity in the wake of Monday’s deadly attack.
“As a country that has suffered a lot from terrorism and terror attacks, we are against all types of terror. We believe that there is a need to combat all forms of terrorism without making any distinction,” Çavuşoğlu told reporters on Tuesday.
Relations between Turkey and Austria have been strained in recent years, with the populist politicians of both countries exchanging harsh words about the other.
Main image, top, left to right: Austrian Turks Recep Tayyip Gültekin and Mikail Özen, and Palestinian Osama Joda