The murder of 54-year-old Maria E. with an iron bar as she was walking along Vienna’s Brunnenmarkt on her way to work as a cleaning lady 2.30am Wednesday morning has shocked residents of the multicultural and popular neighbourhood.
The motivation behind the attack is still unknown, although the key suspect - a 21-year-old Kenyan who has been living illegally in Austria for seven years and did not know the victim - was quickly arrested nearby after the incident.
A 41-year-old colleague of the woman who had been with her at the time of the attack managed to hide behind a market stall and call police.
She later told police that when they saw the man up ahead holding the metre long iron bar they crossed to the other side of the street but the attacker suddenly jumped out from between two market stalls and immediately started brutally attacking the 54-year-old.
Police spokesman Christoph Polzl said: "The women had parked their car nearby and were walking to work when they spotted the man with the iron bar. He made them nervous, and they had crossed onto the other side of the street, according to the statement by the colleague of the deceased woman."
By the time emergency services arrived, Maria E. had died from her injuries, which included several severe blows against her head.
A motive for the attack is not yet clear, although the possibility the man was experiencing a psychotic episode has not been ruled out.
It was revealed that the suspect, who came to Austria legally in 2008 but who overstayed his visa, was known to the police and has been reported for 18 previous offences since 2010.
In 2013 he spent some time in jail after being found guilty of coercion and causing bodily injury and in May 2015 he was reported for allegedly attacking someone with an iron bar, although he was not sentenced. The victim that time was just lightly injured.
The Federal Office for Asylum was aware that the man was in Austria illegally and had ordered his deportation a few years ago but had not yet managed to carry it out.
Following the murder, police bosses held a crisis meeting on Wednesday under the title “Fight against foreign criminality”. They are expected to present their suggestions on what measures to take by the middle of next week.
Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka (ÖVP) also immediately suggested new a bundle of new measures to fight against escalating violent incidents and is due to meet with Justice Minister Brandstetter (ÖVP) to discuss options on Monday. “There must and will be consequences,” he said.
MP Hans Niessl, from the SPÖ partpy, agreed that there must be consequences and said there is “no excuse” for not coming to an agreement on the issue.
Green politician Peter Pilz also added: “It is true that many offenders have themselves experienced terrible things. They are themselves injured and traumatised. But in the moment, in which they attack the defenceless, they are offenders. And nothing else.”