Austrian security forces have gone on full alert after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally targeted Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who ordered the closing of Turkish government-affiliated mosques and the deportation of their imams.
“Your amateurish attitude could cost you a lot. You must know that closing a mosque in Austria and deporting religious men will again start a battle of the cross and the crescent for which you will be responsible,” Erdoğan said on June 8.
After Erdoğan openly targeted Kurz with these comments, supporters of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) started to post death threats mainly on social media. According to an article by the Austrian News Agency (APA), security forces in Vienna have taken the threats by AKP supporters seriously.
According to a report by Russia Today, an anti-terrorism probe has been opened into death threats Austrian Chancellor Kurz received on social media after his government announced a crackdown on hate preaching and “political Islam.”
The Austrian government’s decision to close seven mosques and expel as many as 60 imams as part of their campaign against radicalization has provoked a wave of outrage online.
Some people on social media went as far as to threaten Chancellor Kurz personally. While some posts accused the chancellor of wanting a “war,” others openly said he should “prepare” for death, according to the Oesterreich daily. Some posts also said the head of the Austrian government “will find himself in a rubbish box,” while others just read: “Allahu Akbar!”
The chancellor’s office confirmed to Oesterreich that Kurz received “many” death threats, particularly on Facebook and Instagram, as well as on some “instant messaging services.” The situation was considered to be so grave that the Austrian domestic intelligence and counterterrorism agency, the BVT, launched an investigation into the issue, according to the interior ministry.
Additional measures were also taken to enhance the personal security of Kurz, who is currently on a visit to Israel, as well as of some other ministers. In the meantime, the chancellor’s office spokesman said the government would not let itself to be “beaten out of reason” and would proceed with its policy as planned.
According to reports in the media, Austrian intelligence and counterterrorism units are in pursuit of the people who posted the threatening social media messages. A government official spoke to Österreich and said Kurz has been put under heavy security.
The official said, “The Chancellor is better protected now than ever before,” and added that security forces have launched investigations to identify the people posting death threats against Kurz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
According to information leaked to the Austrian press, the best special operations unit in the country, the Cobra, has been protecting Kurz since the weekend. This intense protection for the country’s conservative leader will reportedly continue for a while longer.
The mosque closures and imam expulsions were announced on June 8. “Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalization tendencies have no place in our country,” Kurz said, commenting on the government’s decision at that time.
When images of ATİB, the Turkish state’s religious affairs institution in Austria, dressing Turkish expat children in army uniforms and making them re-enact the Battle of Çanakkale first emerged, Kurz had said, “This matter has no place in Austria, we will not tolerate such things at all.”
Some of the mosques are suspected by authorities to have been influenced by Turkey’s Islamist President Erdoğan and an ultranationalist organization called the Grey Wolves. The imams who face expulsion are currently under investigation for violating the 2015 Islamic Law that prohibits any religious communities from receiving overseas funding or acting against the Austrian state and society.
Vienna’s move was immediately slammed by President Erdoğan, who warned it could even lead to a “war between the cross and the crescent.” Earlier, Erdoğan’s spokesman, İbrahim Kalın, branded the move as “Islamophobic” and said it was made solely for political purposes.
On Sunday the Islamic Religious Authority of Austria, the IGGO, also lambasted the government’s move, saying it was aimed at “discrediting” the Austrian Muslim community to score “political points.” It particularly condemned the timing of the government’s move, as it said that announcing the closure of mosques on the last Friday of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan just hours before prayers was “an affront to all Austria’s Muslims.”