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Graz imam denies terrorism charges

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Graz imam denies terrorism charges
Man in handcuffs. File photo: APA
11:31 CEST+02:00
A Muslim cleric who was arrested on terrorism charges in Graz earlier this month denies the charges against him and said he would never encourage people to go to war, according to an interview with Profil.

His arrest followed two police searches in places of Muslim worship in late April, during which documents and media were confiscated, which police said implicated the cleric.

The 41-year-old is alleged to have formed a terrorist organisation and to have recruited at least eight young Chechen asylum seekers living in Styria to go and fight in Syria.

His supporters are rallying around him, according to his lawyer, Bernhard Lehofer. “Everybody wants to make a statement and they all say that this man has only ever called for peace, and not for war,” he said.

Lehofer said that he was personally convinced of the man’s innocence, otherwise he would not be representing him. “In no way does he fit the stereotype of a holy warrior," he said.

"I remember a sermon in the summer of last year, in which I said that the Syrians need to solve their own problems, because outside groups can make the situation worse. Chechens have lost nothing in the Syria war," the imam told Profil magazine.

He said that he did know some of the young men who had gone to fight in Syria, and that they had visited his mosque, but that he knew nothing of their plans. "If they had asked me, I would have told them that they should be grateful that Austria has treated them so well and that they should stay here with their families," he said.

He told the magazine that he has lived in Austria for ten years. "I’m a refugee, have experienced the war in Chechnya and I have children, and I want them to be able to grow up safe and sheltered in Austria.” He said he believes he was denounced as a terrorist by supporters of Chechen head Ramzan Kadyrov, who he opposes.

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