Police admit Islamic terror threat concerns

Terror experts consider Islamic extremism as the biggest threat to Austria in the medium term despite “vanishingly low” crime figures in this context.

Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner announced she wanted to press on with introducing stricter anti-terror laws over the results of the latest Report on the Protection of the Constitution of Austria (RPCA).

The report – which was presented on Friday – reveals that 1,040 acts of right-wing extremism were reported to the police in 2010, around 31 per cent more than in the previous year. The RPCA also says that 340 left-wing extremist felonies occurred in the Alpine country last year, up sharply from just 90 such offences in 2009.

Mikl-Leitner and Peter Grindling, who heads the Austrian police’s department for the protection of the constitution and the fight against terrorism (BVT), did not reveal figures for offences carried out by radical Islamists. They explained the number was “extremely low.” Nevertheless, the interior minister and the BVT boss identified such activism as the “key threat to the European Union (EU) and Austria in the medium term” due to a “tendency” and alleged soaring support of such ideology especially among young Muslims.

Speaking about far-right violence and propaganda, Mikl-Leitner and Grindling said neo-Nazis and people who feel connected with xenophobic ideology were increasingly operating on social media sites on the internet and various online discussion platforms.

Grindling revealed the BVT was currently investigating whether Freedom Party (FPÖ) members could be charged for being members of an anti-Turkey group on social networking website Facebook. The FPÖ is the strongest of the three opposition factions in the federal parliament in Vienna. The right-wing party has campaigned against immigration from Islam-dominated countries to Austria.

Analysts have said that the People’s Party (ÖVP) – which forms a coalition with the Social Democrats (SPÖ) – has tried to stop the FPÖ from getting more popular by focusing on a strict anti-crime course itself when it comes to debating migration aspects. Mikl-Leitner is considered as a hardliner as far as these issues are concerned. Many of her views allegedly resemble those of Maria Fekter, her controversial predecessor as ÖVP interior minister. Fekter became federal finance minister in April.

An envelope containing an unidentified white substance was sent to Mikl-Leitner some days ago. Toxic experts said they still needed to find out what it the powder was but stressed that it was not anthrax or some other dangerous substance. It is unclear who sent off the envelope.

The envelope arrived shortly after the minister called for stricter anti-terror regulations. Mikl-Leitner suggested people who publicly back terrorist acts should be jailed longer. She also promised to increase workforce levels at the anti-cyber crime departments of the police and the ministry.

Meanwhile, research group Karmasin said 37 per cent of Austrians could imagine the existence of Islamic terror cells in Austria. Another 12 per cent told the agency they were convinced without any doubt that such networks were operating in the Alpine country. Karmasin interviewed around 500 Austrians for weekly magazine profil.