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Air rifle sniper

September 23, 2011

Vienna police say a sniper has shot 17 people with an air rifle. No one has been seriously injured, but the random attacks have the residents of the Austrian capital worried.

A person holding an air rifle
So far the sniper has injured 14 people with an air rifleImage: picture alliance/APA/picturedesk.com

It was meant to be a nice night out with the family. Stefan Lanzel and his mother decided to take his four-year-old daughter out to dinner in a southern district of Vienna. But as they headed home something frightening happened.

"We drove out of the parking garage. I had to stop as I waited to merge into traffic. And suddenly my head was knocked back," Lanzel said. "'There was a shot, there was a shot,' my mother said. And we immediately drove to the hospital."

There the surgeons pulled a pellet from his temple. Just a few minutes after Lanzel was shot, the next victim was shot.

Pedestrians walking in downtown Vienna
The attacks seem to be random, targeting all types of peopleImage: picture-alliance/Oliver Berg

"All of a sudden I felt a pain in my hand," said Roman Pfeiffer, who was walking along a main thoroughfare when he was shot. "At the exact moment I heard a bang. That means he must have driven up right next to me and shot me."

A mysterious sniper has struck 17 times in Vienna in the last month, injuring 14 people. A policeman dressed in civilian clothes was hit in the neck and needed emergency surgery. So far the other victims have fared better and no one has been seriously injured.

The sniper appears to be choosing his victims randomly, from a 16-year-old girl to a senior citizen, people in cars or out walking on the street. People in almost every district of the Austrian capital have been targeted. It's that arbitrariness that scares Vienna residents the most.

Reward for clues

Police say the sniper's weapon of choice is an air rifle, which is a gun that propels projectiles, such as pellets or BBs, by compressed air or carbon dioxide.

"The closer the person is to the rifle, the more damage it can cause," said Werner Sodia, a gun shop owner in downtown Vienna. "It will bruise, or it can penetrate, especially where the skin is thin or when the rifle is fired from very close."

Police in Vienna
Vienna police are looking for clues to identify the sniperImage: DW

Whether the shooter is a single person or has an accomplice is unclear, as is a possible motive for the attacks.

"It's about gaining power," speculated Sigrun Rossmanith, a court psychiatrist. "Especially the idea of shooting unseen, from behind, to choose who to take and who to shoot, has been linked in similar cases to a feeling of omnipotence."

In the meantime, the Austrian Federal Criminal Agency has offered a reward of 20,000 euros ($27,148) for valuable information. Police spokesman Mario Hejl said there are already have a lead, and are looking for a small, lightly colored car.

Without the case solved however, Vienna residents stay on high alert and the hot topic in the office and in the subway remains the sniper attacks.

Author: Tim Gerrit Köhler / hf
Editor: Rob Turner