Network to protect Austrians from jihadists

Stories about young Austrians heading to Syria to fight with violent jihadists are becoming disturbingly frequent - with two young girls prevented from flying to Turkey en route to Syria this week.

Network to protect Austrians from jihadists
Isis fighters in Syria. Photo: APA

A new Vienna-based organisation set up by a group of Austrian Muslims and social workers aims to deradicalize young people who have been to Syria, or are planning to go, to fight with the so-called Islamic State (Isis) jihadists.

The goal is to provide a bridge between the individual's family and various agencies and bodies, with the aim of steering the person away from extremism.

Austria’s Interior Ministry has said that 142 Austrians, including 12 women, are thought to be in Syria. Ten suspected would-be jihadis have been arrested since mid-August.

The new Network for Social Cohesion (Netzwerk Sozialer Zusammenhalt) had its inaugural meeting on September 6th.

Chairman Moussa Al-Hassan Diaw and political scientist Thomas Schmidinger said they set it up after repeated requests from teachers and family members who feel that jihadist ideology is an increasing threat to young Muslims.

Muslim communities across Europe have seen significant numbers of youngsters motivated to go to Syria either out of anger or because they have bought into propaganda on social media. The worry is that when they return home the brutalising effect of the war – and the ideology involved – poses a threat.

Diaw said that the plan is to set up a counselling centre, a think tank and a training service for NGOs, schools and social workers.

“It’s clear that the radicalization of young people, who are being motivated to join terrorist groups such as Isis, is a big problem,” Diaw said.

Schmidinger said that any government funds that went into deradicalization and prevention would be “well spent”.

Schmidinger and Diaw have been in contact with similar initiatives in other European countries, particularly in Germany.

They stressed that it’s important that the organisation is independent from the police. “Parents are not going to come to us about their child if they are worried that their son or daughter will be arrested,” they said.

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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.