Austria closes 7 mosques, may expel 60 clerics

A quarter of Austria’s 260 Muslim clerics may be expelled for possible illegal funding from Turkey and seven mosques were closed for preaching extremism as Vienna on Friday began a crackdown on political and radical Islam.

Defending the move, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured) said one hardline mosque in Vienna was closed because it was preaching salafist ideology. Six other mosques were shuttered because the Arab Religious Community group had to be dissolved.

Religious Affairs Minister Gernot Bluemel said the Arab Religious Community ignored Austria’s Islam Law that obliges Muslim groups to show a positive attitude towards society and the state.

Austria will not allow parallel societies and radical tendencies, Kurz said, adding that the crackdown against Islamist groups has just begun.

Mosques in Austria came under the security radar in April after Falter weekly published photos of young boys in camouflage uniforms playing dead while re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli. The photos showed children marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead. Their ‘corpses’ were then lined up and draped in flags.

Bluemel said working visas of 60 clerics of Austria Turkey Islamic Union (ATIB) linked to the funder, Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet), are being scrutinised. Despite strict rules, ATIB had circumvented the ban on foreign funding of imams, the minister said.

Turkish Presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said the move against imams and the closure of the mosques is to marginalise Muslim communities in Europe and gain political benefits.

Such “lame excuses” are a reflection of the “anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave” in Austria, Kalin said.

Turkish media called Vienna’s steps a “scandalous decision.”

Last week Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Kurz “immoral chancellor” who has a problem with Turkey and keeps throwing his weight around to make scenes.

Of Austria’s 8.7 million inhabitants, more than 270,000 people have Turkish roots and they constitute the third-largest immigrant community after Germans and Serbs.