International desk, June 08: Austria has said it will close down seven mosques and expel imams who it says are funded by foreign countries.Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the move was a crackdown on political Islam, BBC reports.
Some mosques are suspected of having links to Turkish nationalists. In April images emerged showing children in Turkish army uniforms re-enacting World War One’s Battle of Gallipoli.
The Turkish president’s office called Austria’s move “Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory”.
Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted that it was “an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points”.
The Austrian government says 60 of the 260 imams in the country are being investigated, 40 of whom belong to ATIB, a Muslim group close to the Turkish government.
The Gallipoli re-enactment performance took place in a mosque run by the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves group, in Vienna-Favoriten district. The group has branches in several countries.
Austrian media report that the child actors played dead and were covered with Turkish flags. The mosque has also been linked to photos of children doing the Grey Wolves greeting.
“Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalisation tendencies have no place in our country,” said Chancellor Kurz on Friday.
Mr Kurz’s election campaign last year drew heavily on anxiety about immigration and the integration of Muslims. His conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ).
Mr Kurz wants the EU to break off Turkey’s EU membership negotiations – a stance that has angered Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In May 2017 that anger led Turkey to veto Nato’s co-operation with Austria. The move disrupted Nato’s partnership activities with 41 countries. Turkey is a key player in Nato operations.
The Austrian authorities have been working with a Muslim community body called IGGÖ to identify mosques and imams suspected of radical Islamist or nationalist connections.
Three of the mosques earmarked for closure are in Vienna, two in Upper Austria and one is in Carinthia.