‘Mothers School’ to combat radicalization

A network for mothers who are concerned that their children might fall under the influence of violent extremist ideologies is being launched in Austria - similar to other successful projects in India and Pakistan.

'Mothers School' to combat radicalization
Schlaffer, second from left, with ministers and leaders of Mothers Schools from Kashmir, Pakistan and India. Photo: Regina Aigner/BKA

The Mothers Schools Against Extremism model was developed by Vienna-based advocacy group Women Without Borders and is designed to act as “an early warning system” so that mothers feel able to protect their children from radical influences.

"The first line of defence is at home, this is where the first signs of a possible radicalization become visible," Edit Schlaffer, founder of Women Without Borders, said on Monday. She said it was about addressing an “imbalance in society” and “helping young people who don’t manage to find a direction”.

She added that work had been done to focus on particular schools and areas in Austria where conflicts had arisen and to identify concerned parents.

The first group will start with about 15 mothers who will take part in workshops with specially trained coaches over a period of three to four months, where they will learn techniques to help detect potential radicalization and also develop a constructive dialogue with their children.

"We’re not just talking about mothers of jihadists, we’re talking about all anxious mothers and fathers," Schlaffer said. She added that at recent information evenings, many fathers had also expressed interest in becoming part of such a network.

"Mothers Schools help women become more proactive, they learn to communicate better with their children and how to ask questions without controlling them. They develop self-confidence and a sense of dignity and don’t worry about asking their children what is going on in their lives,” Archana Kapoor, who set up Mothers Schools in India and Kashmir told a press conference in Vienna.

She added that the seminars run by the network offer mothers an important space in which to share their experiences, and find like-minded women.

Social Minister Rudolf Hundstorfer (SPÖ), who is supporting the project, said that education and prevention work was key to protecting young people in Austria from extremist influences. He said he was convinced that parents, and especially mothers, had a central role to play. "We have to try and reach young people before they are recruited. In Austria it is only a minority, but any teenager who becomes radicalized is one too many," Hundstorfer said.

Government estimates suggest that around 200 people from Austria – including women and minors – have gone to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist militias like Islamic Front.

Alev Korun, human rights spokeswoman for the Green Party, welcomed the Mothers Schools project: "I'm very pleased that the government is supporting this project which focuses on social and community cohesion, and aims to support the parents of at-risk youth."


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.