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Vienna - Normally peaceful Austria was in shock on Wednesday after a poacher killed three policemen and a paramedic before perishing in a fire at his farm surrounded by police marksmen and army tanks.
The drama began just after midnight on Tuesday when police commandos tried to stop Alois Huber near Annaberg, about 100 kilometres west of Vienna, after a tip-off that he was hunting illegally.
The childless 55-year-old, whose wife reportedly died from cancer a few years ago, smashed through the police road block in his car and shot one of the police in the neck, fatally wounding him.
Less than an hour later, while the commando was still receiving treatment, he picked off an ambulance driver using a night-sight on his rifle, killing him, and shot a second policeman, but not fatally.
After crashing his Toyota pick-up truck, he continued on foot for two kilometres until another police roadblock, where he shot dead one policeman and took a second hostage. By now it was around 2.00am.
He stole their police car and drove, with his captive, about 60 kilometres to his farm at Grosspriel near the town of Melk.
According to the Kronen-Zeitung, after daybreak he phoned friend and hunting companion Herbert Huthansl, confessing to the killings - he also shot his dog - and to “say goodbye”.
“The house is surrounded by police, they've got a helicopter and they're coming to get me,” the paper quoted Huber as telling Huthansl.
“I shot three policemen. They shot me in the stomach too, but that doesn't matter now ... I have already shot Burgi (his German Shepherd dog) and they're not going to get me.”
By this time the farm, comprising several buildings, was surrounded by heavily armed police, joined later by several army tanks while helicopters buzzed overhead.
A siege ensued as Huber, the legal owner of a whole arsenal of hunting guns including a high-powered rifle able to pierce police body armour, hid inside, letting off occasional pot shots.
At around 2.00pm, the tanks moved in and the stolen police car was found in a shed, the dead body of the policeman taken hostage inside. Attempts to make contact with Huber, either by phone or loud-speaker, failed.
At dusk, with power to the farm cut off, “Cobra” commandos tried approaching the main farmhouse but Huber fired at them, so police waited longer, finally storming the building at around 11.30pm.
In a tricky operation carefully combing through the labyrinth-like house floor by floor, fearing at any moment that Huber could emerge with all guns blazing, the commandos found a hidden room on fire.
When the fire was brought under control “the charred body of a man, believed to be the poacher and murder suspect, was discovered,” said police spokesman Roland Scherscher.
The three slain police officers, all family men, were named as Roman Baumgartner, 38, Manfred Daurer, 44, and Johann Ecker, 51.
The paramedic, Johann Dorfwirth, 70, had received numerous awards during a long career. - AFP