Austria shuts two mosques attended by Vienna attacker

Updated 07 Nov 2020


A photo taken on Friday shows the Tewhid mosque after the Austrian government ordered its closure. — AFP
A photo taken on Friday shows the Tewhid mosque after the Austrian government ordered its closure. — AFP

VIENNA: The Austrian government ordered the closure on Friday of two mosques in the capital Vienna frequented by the jihadist gunman who shot dead four people in the city centre earlier in the week.

The shooting on Monday was Austria’s first major attack in decades and its first blamed on a jihadist, identified as 20-year-old Kujtim Fejzulai, who was killed by police.

Integration Minister Susanne Raab told a press conference that the government’s religious affairs office “was informed by the interior ministry that Monday’s attacker, since his release from prison, had repeatedly visited two Vienna mosques”.

The two mosques are in Vienna’s western suburbs, one called the Melit Ibrahim mosque in the Ottakring district and the other being the Tewhid mosque in the Meidling area.

The BVT domestic intelligence agency “told us that the visits to these mosques furthered the attacker’s radicalisation,” Raab said. Only one of the mosques was officially registered as such, Raab said.

A statement from the officially recognised Islamic Religious Community of Austria said one officially registered mosque was being shut because it had broken rules over “religious doctrine and its constitution”, as well as national legislation governing Islamic institutions.

Also on Friday the Vienna prosecutor’s department said that six of the 16 people detained since the attack have been released, with the rest remaining in custody as the probe into the attacker’s circle continues.

The suspected gunman, dual Austrian-Macedonian national Fejzulai, had previously been convicted for trying to join the militant Islamic State group in Syria.

Vienna anti-terror chief suspended

The head of anti-terror operations in the Austrian capital Vienna was suspended on Friday as details emerged of further security lapses in the run up to this week’s jihadist attack which left four people dead.

Erich Zwettler, the head of Vienna’s anti-terror agency, had “asked to be suspended from his functions”, Vienna police chief Gerhard Puerstl told a press conference, as further embarrassing revelations came to light of missed opportunities to prevent the bloodshed. Zwettler’s position became untenable in the light of “obvious and intolerable” failures, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said, after revealing that gunman Kujtim Fejzulai had been in contact with people who had been on the radar of the German intelligence agencies.

A tip-off from German intelligence about these meetings had apparently not lead to increased surveillance of Fejzulai, who at the time was following an Austrian de-radicalisation programme having been released early from jail.

Earlier this week, it came to light Austrian intelligence officials had also been warned by their counterparts in neighbouring Slovakia that Fejzulai had attempted to buy ammunition earlier this year.

Nehammer himself has come under pressure in the days since the attack with sharp criticism coming from opposition parties that the failures had taken place under his watch.

On Friday, the government ordered the closure of two mosques frequented by Fejzulai which had allegedly furthered his radicalisation.

Published in Dawn, November 7th, 2020