Austrian Muslims denounce government's plan to shut down 7 mosques associated with Turkish nationalists

FILE PHOTO: Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the People's Party (OeVP) attends a session of the parliament in Vienna, Austria, December 20, 2017. | Reuters/Leonhard Foeger

A Muslim group in Austria has condemned the government's plan to shut down seven mosques as part of the crackdown on Turkish nationalism and political Islam.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz had recently announced that a Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna will be shut down and the group known as the Arab Religious Community, which operates six mosques, will be disbanded.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl has noted that around 60 imams could be expelled from the country as part of the crackdown. He noted that the figure would rise to 150 if family members are taken into account.

The main federation of Muslim residents (IGGiOe) has decried the plan saying, the Austrian government wants to "discredit the religious community."

Ibrahim Olgun, president of IGGiOe, has expressed concern that the policy "will lead ultimately to a weakening of structures within the Muslim community in Austria." He also lamented that his organization was not informed in advance before the plan was announced on the final Friday of Ramadan.

The crackdown follows the enactment of a 2015 law that prohibits religious groups from receiving foreign funding and requires Islamic societies to have "a positive fundamental view towards [Austria's] state and society."

Kickl claimed that the imams affected by the crackdown have ties to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB), a branch of Turkey's religious affairs agency Diyanet. He noted that the clerics have been suspected of violating the ban on foreign funding for those holding religious office.

The interior minister further explained that 40 of the Islamic clerics have applied to extend their residency, and several others have already been brought to the attention of immigration authorities.

According to Daily Mail, the Austrian government is planning to shut down seven mosques following an investigation prompted by images that showed children re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli in a Turkish-backed mosque in April.

The pictures reportedly featured young boys in camouflage uniforms waving Turkish flags. Other images showed the boys playing dead, with their bodies lined up and draped in the flags.

ATIB, which ran the mosque featured in the photo, denounced the incident and said that the event has been "called off before it had even ended."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced Kurz's announcement as anti-Islamic. "These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent," Erdogan said, according to Al Jazeera.

There are currently about 360,000 people of Turkish origin living in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals, the Daily Mail reported.