Austria gov’t agrees to preventive arrests, ban ‘political Islam’

Proposals include the ability to close mosques, strip citizenship and imprison those convicted of ‘terrorism’ for life.

Four people were killed in the November 2 Vienna attack, and the gunman was also killed [File: Michael Gruber/Getty Images]

The government of Austria has agreed on a wide range of anti-terrorism measures in the wake of a deadly attack in the capital, Vienna, last week.

The proposals include the ability to keep individuals convicted of “terror” offenses behind bars for life, electronic surveillance of people convicted of terror-related offenses upon release and criminalising religiously motivated and politically extreme acts.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said on Wednesday that the government also plans to simplify the process of shutting down associations or mosques deemed to play a role in “radicalisation” and enable the public to report potential violent activities on an online platform. A central register of imams will also be created.

“In the fight against political Islam – the ideological basis behind it – we are going to create a criminal offense called ‘political Islam’ in order to be able to move against those who aren’t terrorists but are preparing the ground for it,” he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

The planned measures, which will be brought before parliament in December for a vote, also call for preventive detention for people convicted of terror offences. Kurz said even if people have served their sentences for such crimes, but are not yet seen as being completely deradicalised, “we will make it possible to lock those people up in order to protect the public.”

In some cases, people who have just been released will be monitored with an electronic ankle bracelet or a wristband, Kurz added, without explaining exactly when this particular method would be used or when preventive detention would be applied.

The Green party, now in coalition with Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP), had previously criticised the concept of preventive detention while in opposition.

On November 2, an attacker killed four people in central Vienna before being shot dead by police. Twenty others, including a police officer, were wounded.

Authorities in Austria have identified the suspect as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, a dual national of Austria and North Macedonia who had a previous conviction for trying to join ISIL (ISIS) in Syria and had been given early release in December.

An investigation has been launched into why Austria did not have Fejzulai under observation, despite being tipped off by Slovakian authorities that he had tried to purchase ammunition at a shop in Bratislava in July.

The proposals by the government also include plans to strip dual citizens convicted of terrorism offences of their Austrian citizenship.

Investigation, arrests ongoing

On Monday, close to 1,000 police and intelligence service officers raided homes, businesses and associations allegedly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, seizing millions of euros in cash across four provinces.

Prosecutors insisted that those raids were not connected to the attack last week, but were the result of an investigation stretching back more than a year.

The attack in Vienna followed an attack in Nice, France, in which four people were killed.

In the wake of several assaults, France has also begun to close mosques and is cracking down on the organisations it suspects are spreading hate.

However, there are fears of collective punishment and rising Islamophobia, especially as BarakaCity, a prominent charity, was dissolved in late October.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies