Terror crackdown over Reichstag attack plot

A new anti-terror draft bill presented by the People’s Party (ÖVP) has sparked mixed reactions among opposition factions.

Johanna Mikl-Leitner, the ÖVP’s new interior minister, announced yesterday (Weds) she agreed with ÖVP Justice Minister Beatrix Karl that people who incite others to carry out terrorist acts should go to jail. The interior minister explained the new set of measures meant that someone who approved terror attacks in front of at least 30 people faces a prison term of two years from 2012. The current regulation mentions a group of 150 people as terror-backing people’s audience. Mikl-Leitner added that so-called “preachers of hate” and people who seek participants of terror camps would also go to jail if the bill got passed in the federal parliament.

The announcements come shortly after an Austrian convert was arrested after long examinations by an anti-terror police unit at Vienna International Airport (VIA or VIE). The 25-year-old Muslim is suspected of organising trips to Pakistan for people who are willing to join al-Qaeda’s fight against the Western world. Reports have it that the man has been so busy bringing Austrian Muslims to the Asian state he was known among radical Islamists for “running the main travel office.”

State prosecutors announced he was also accused of having plans to hijack a passenger plane and steer it into the Reichstag, the federal German parliament in Berlin. Austrian press claimed the man had precise plans to carry out such an attack. Officials confirmed the suspicion, but also pointed out that investigations were still at an early stage. The suspect remains in custody in Vienna while three other people arrested during the same operation at VIA on the same day were released a few hours later.

Mikl-Leitner said yesterday she wanted to equip her ministry’s anti-terror investigators with the most sophisticated software available. She added that a 10-million-Euro injection was needed to gear up against what she described as a “growing threat” against Austria which has so far not been considered as a top target for internationally operating terrorists by experts.

The former Lower Austrian councillor, who took office as federal interior minister in April, may be in hot water for mentioning mosques when referring to people who incite others to carry out terrorist acts. The minister – widely regarded as a hardliner as far as topics like crime and immigration are concerned – claimed that “a three-digit number” of the around 600,000 Muslims living in Austria were radicals. However, Mikl-Leitner vowed to keep up and intensify the dialogue with the Alpine country’s Muslim community.

Fuat Sanac, the leader-elect of the Austrian Islamic Denomination (IGGiÖ) generally welcomed the set of measures suggested by Mikl-Leitner and Karl. The Turk emphasised that “terror has no religion. This bylaw would affect everybody, not just Muslims.” Sanac, described as a representative of the moderate wing of the IGGiÖ, added that it must be avoided that the reputation of Austrian Muslims deteriorated due to the actions and views of a small group of radicals. He announced it had to be ensured that people all over the world could live in peace and harmony. Sanac is set to succeed Anas Schakfeh as head of the IGGiÖ this Sunday after the community elected a new board in the past months. Schakfeh, who was born in Syria, became leader of the organisation in 1987.

Asked whether his party would vote in favour of the draft bill as presented by its coalition partner, Social Democratic (SPÖ) Justice Affairs spokesman Hannes Jarolim explained he was optimistic that his faction and the ÖVP would reach an agreement. Jarolim stressed that some aspects of the new package of anti-terror efforts were brought forward in previous attempts by the government to implement more stringent bylaws – and put into question by judicial and terror experts.

Peter Fichtenbauer warned that “fundamental civil rights” must not be ignored. The Freedom Party (FPÖ) MP vowed to “keep a close eye” on how the government planned to proceed in this regard. Fellow FPÖ MP Harald Vilimsky made headlines across Europe by labelling mosques in Austria as “hotbeds of radical Islam.” FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache has pointed out his party would welcome everyone willing to work hard in Austria. At the same time, the right-winger’s party celebrated one strong election performance after the other in past years by pointing the finger at “Muslims who create parallel societies instead of showing effort in integrating themselves here.” Opponents of the FPÖ have called on people many times to “wake up” and realise that the party is doing nothing but creating a hostile climate in Austria by stirring up fears among people.

A spokesman for the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) announced his party was approving the increased anti-terror restrictions. He added that the BZÖ – which was founded by late FPÖ chief Jörg Haider in 2005 – would wait and see whether the draft bill was sufficient as eventually agreed upon and presented by the SPÖ-ÖVP administration in parliament.

Greens MP Albert Steinhauser said he was not in favour of the planned measures. The left-winger voiced concerns that people having nothing to do with plans to plot attacks could come into the firing line of anti-terror investigators if the bill gets the green light.

Meanwhile, a German with Turkish origin has been put in custody in Austria for threatening to carry out terror attacks in Germany online. The 31-year-old man had been issued with an international arrest warrant before he was caught in Austria a few days ago. Yusuf O. said in his internet videos he planned to attack the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Munich’s Oktoberfest and the main train station in the city of Hamburg. His clips featured images of high-profile politicians like German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble. The terror suspect will be extradited to Germany next week to face justice, according to reports in Austrian newspapers today.