What does Austria's raised terror alert mean for the public?

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What does Austria's raised terror alert mean for the public?
Austria's Interior Minister Gerhard Karner answers questions during a Justice and Home affairs Council at the EU headquarters in Brussels on September 28, 2023. Photo by John THYS / AFP

The threat of a terrorist attack has escalated in Austria, leading authorities to increase the alert level to "high". What does that mean for members of the public?


Austria's Interior Ministry said on Wednesday that the warning level was being raised with immediate effect from "increased" to "high" and that there would be an increased police and military presence outside public buildings, particularly at Jewish institutions. 

It comes due to the ongoing crisis in the Middle East and a recent terrorist attack in Belgium, Interior Minister Gerhard Karner, Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner, Chief of State Protection Omar Haijawi-Pirchner, and Vienna Military Commander Kurt Wagner said during a joint press conference on Wednesday afternoon. 

"We have to see that the current incident has high potential for escalation," Tanner said.

Due to the crisis, people are "highly emotional" and tensions are running high worldwide, he said.

Tanner added that Austria has a special responsibility to keep Jews safe because of the Holocaust. An estimated 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered and 125,000 forced to flee Austria as refugees.

"Every group in our society should feel free and safe in Austria," Tanner said. 

Interior Minister Karner said the "visible (police) presence in front of Jewish institutions has been increased in recent days".

More resources will be put into this task, Karner said. The number of soldiers being stationed with police to safeguard sensitive sites in Austria is increasing from 90 to 190.

The Local contacted the police in Vienna to ask what the raised terror level means for members of the public.

A police spokesman told us that based on the new risk assessment, Vienna will "increase the police presence in public areas as well as the protection of objects requiring special protection".

The spokesman added that the Austrian Armed Forces will provide support to police.

"There will be no restrictions for the Viennese population in public spaces," he added. 


'No immediate threat of terror attack'

As well as the extra resources, a new unit will be set up in the Interior Ministry, called the "Terror Defence Centre", which will assess the situation around the clock.

This is already part of the work by the Directorate of State Protection and Intelligence (DSN), but the new unit is to enable better coordination between the departments, authorities said. The newly introduced border controls with the Czech Republic are part of the measures.

Omar Haijawi-Pirchner, head of the DSN, stressed that there's currently no immediate threat of a terror attack in Austria.

However, the risk of Islamist terrorism is elevated due to "Middle East developments". He explained that ongoing events could be exploited to disseminate Islamist propaganda, which might further radicalise individuals, including those already under surveillance.

Marches in solidarity for Israelis murdered or taken hostage by Hamas on October 7th, as well as pro-Palestine demonstrations following the Israeli military's attacks on Gaza have been taking place in Austria this month. 

READ ALSO: Austria suspends aid for Palestinians after Hamas attack


What do terror alerts in Austria mean?

Terror alert levels have been used by countries worldwide since the attacks on September 11th 2001 in the United States. They are intended to inform the population about dangers and serve as a basis for police measures.

In Austria there are five levels, which range from low, where a terror attack is not expected, to acute - which means an attack is imminent or has already occurred. 

The current level is the second highest, and it means the risk of a terror attack in Austria is "high".

Some other European countries, including Belgium, have raised their terror alert in recent days.

France raised its alert to the highest level on Friday following an Islamist knife attack at a school.


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