Drones, firearms, and undercover police: How Austria is preparing for increased terror threat at Easter

FILE - Police officers guard the scene of attack in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)
By Thomas Brooke
3 Min Read

Austria has retained its second-highest terror alert level for the Easter holidays, but authorities are still taking extra precautions in the aftermath of the Moscow attack that killed at least 137 people.

Extra digital surveillance and an added police presence are expected across Easter markets and celebrations in Vienna over the weekend, particularly outside St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was the target of a thwarted terror attack at Christmas.

Armed guards will man the Christian landmark and plain-clothes police officers will be on hand among civilians to root out any suspicious activity.

“The police work around the clock for security and are also required at Easter,” said Interior Minister Gerhard Karner. “Everything is being done to ensure the best possible protection for Easter markets and Easter celebrations,” he added.

Vienna police gave assurances that no specific viable threat has been identified but said it would ramp up its security measures as a precaution.

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“The Vienna police will be increasingly deployed with both uniformed and civilian forces to ensure the maintenance of public order and security,” the force told the Austrian newspaper Exxpress.

Civilian emergency services and special units such as WEGA, Cobra, and standby units will be deployed, while an increased number of drones will be providing extra surveillance from the air.

Terror activity has been thwarted across Europe in recent months with suspects detained in Sweden, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria.

Many suspects are understood to have links with ISPK, a splinter group of the Islamic State primarily operating in the Afghan province of Khorasan.

Earlier this month, two Afghan nationals with ties to the U.N.-proscribed terror cell were arrested in Germany on suspicion of planning a terror attack near the Swedish parliament to avenge the permittance of Koran-burning demonstrations in the country.

Several individuals are understood to have exploited the migratory route from Ukraine to enter the European Union to plan attacks, with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan nationals arrested in Germany in July last year having entered Western Europe from the war-torn country.

Austria has kept its terror threat level the same following the Moscow terror attack, but other European countries such as France increased theirs to the highest level, suggesting an attack is imminent.

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