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TERRORISM

Girls lured to Syria with ‘false promises’

Two teenage girls from Vienna who attempted to leave Austria to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (Isis) jihadists had no intention of committing terrorist acts and were lured by “false promises”, Austria’s Interior Ministry has said.

The 14 and 15-year-old schoolgirls ran away from Vienna and stayed the night with a friend in Graz, from where they planned to fly to Turkey and then cross the border into Syria.

However, the girl's mother became suspicious of the large amount of luggage the teenagers had with them and called the police on Saturday.

Police came to the apartment and were able to stop the two friends from boarding their flight.

Interior Ministry spokesman Alexander Marakovits said on Wednesday that one of the girls comes from a Muslim family, and the other is a convert. Both had been radicalised in the last few weeks and now wear a burqa, he said.

The Kronen Zeitung newspaper reported that the two girls got to know each other on the web and that one of them had said she wanted "to support Isis, it doesn't matter where".

"We are looking into how they were influenced, whether it be via the Internet or by actual people either in Austria or elsewhere," Marakovits said.

There was no evidence that their friend in Graz planned to fly with them to Turkey, as earlier media reports suggested.

Marakovits said that the girls are not being treated as criminals. "They are victims who have fallen in with the wrong circle of friends," he said. He added that they had been "lured with false promises" to Syria. They were promised a paradise and shown photos of beaches and beautiful homes. He said that they hadn't had any intentions of committing terrorist acts.

The parents' response had been right he said – they had registered their daughters as missing on Friday, and the information had been forwarded to all police stations.

Police have staff on alert at airports, to spot any minors attempting to fly to Turkey. A handful of young girls have already been prevented from leaving Austria for Syria.

In May two other Austrian girls of Bosnian origin reportedly left to "fight for Islam" in Syria.

The ministry spokesman said that 142 Austrians, including 12 women, were thought to be in Syria. Ten suspected would-be jihadis have been arrested in Austria since mid-August.

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CRIME

Case dropped against second Swiss man over Vienna attack ‘links’

Swiss prosecutors said Thursday they had dropped the case against a second Swiss man over alleged links to a deadly shooting rampage in Vienna due to a lack of evidence.

Armed police officers stand guard before the arrival of Austrian Chancellor Kurz and President of the European Council to pay respects to the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria on November 9,2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
Armed police officers stand guard before the arrival of Austrian Chancellor Kurz and President of the European Council to pay respects to the victims of the recent terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria on November 9,2020. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG), which last month decided to drop the case against one suspect, told AFP it had issued a discontinuation order in the case against a second man.

On November 2, 2020, convicted Islamic State sympathiser Kujtim Fejzulai killed four people in Vienna before being shot dead by police.

It was the first major attack in Austria in decades and the first blamed on a jihadist.

Two Swiss citizens who knew Fejzulai were arrested in the northeastern Swiss town of Winterthur just a day after the attack on suspicion they may have helped in its preparation.

‘How was it possible?’ Austrians left asking painful questions after Vienna terror shootings

The two, who were aged 18 and 24 at the time, were known to the police and were the targets of prior criminal cases over terror-linked offences.

The OAG acknowledged Thursday that no evidence had emerged that either man had participated in any way or had prior knowledge of the attack.

The older of the two men was meanwhile hit with a penalty in a separate case with no links to the Vienna file, the OAG said.

The penalty order, seen by Swiss media, indicated that he had been found guilty of violating Switzerland’s law banning Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and related organisations and of being in possession of “depictions of violence”.

According to the ATS news agency, an IS group video was found on his phone depicting people being executed and decapitated.

He was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence, a fine of 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,100, 950 euros), and three years’ probation, ATS said.

ANALYSIS: Vienna terror attack was ‘only a matter of time’

In light of this penalty, he would not be compensated for the 176 days he spent behind bars after his arrest following the Vienna attack, it added.

The OAG said a separate case was still pending against the younger of the two men, also on suspicion he breached the Swiss law banning Al-Qaeda, IS and related organisations, and over “allegations of depictions of violence”. “The presumption of innocence applies,” it stressed.

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