Austria to close 7 mosques and expel up to 60 foreign-funded imams and their families

The Austrian government is to order the closure of seven mosques and expel up to 60 imams and their families in a crackdown on political Islam and Turkish nationalism, it has announced.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization have no place in our country,” Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, said.

‘This is just the beginning,’ Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache added.

Six of the seven mosques are being closed on suspicion of links to Islamic terrorism. They are run by an organization called the Arab Religious Community, which the government has also ordered to be shut down.

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The seventh mosque is a separate case. It is to be closed for links to the Grey Wolves, a far-Right Turkish nationalist group.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl of the Freedom Party (FPOe), partner in Austria’s coalition government, said: ‘The circle of people possibly affected by these measures – the pool that we’re talking about – comprises around 60 imams.’

Kickl was referring to imams with links to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organisation, a branch of Turkey’s religious affairs agency Diyanet.

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The interior minister added that the government suspects them of contravening a ban on foreign funding of religious office holders.

The ministry said 40 of them had an active application for extending their residency and that a number of these had already been referred to immigration authorities, where a process for expelling them was underway.

Once family members were taken into account, a total 150 people risked losing their right to residence, Kickl told a Vienna press conference.

One of the seven mosques will be shut after an investigation by Austria’s religious affairs authority sparked by images which emerged in April of children in a Turkish-backed mosque playing dead and re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

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The photos of children, published by the Falter weekly, showed the young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead.

The photos of children, published by the Falter weekly, showed the young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead..jpg

In Friday’s press conference Kurz was keen to emphasise that the action was being taken under legislation to regulate Islamic associations that he himself brought in as a minister in the previous government and which had so far not been used often enough.