‘Islamist motive’ suspected in murder of elderly couple in Austria

Austria's interior minister Wolfgang Sobotka said a Tunisian man suspected of murdering a couple in their home in Linz, Austria, is believed to have acted with an Islamist motive.

'Islamist motive' suspected in murder of elderly couple in Austria
The elderly couple lived in Austrian city Linz. Photo: Wikimedia/Thomas Ledl

If confirmed, Friday's killings in the northern city of Linz – in which an 85-year-old woman's throat was slit and her 87-year-old husband was stabbed and beaten to death – would be the first Islamist attack in Austria, which has so far avoided the jihadist assaults seen elsewhere in Europe.

The killings “clearly had an Islamist background”, Sobotka told a press conference in Vienna on Wednesday, adding that the 54-year-old suspect, who handed himself in to police, “is clearly a radicalized Muslim”.

Police had said on Tuesday that the murders did not initially appear to be an Islamist attack, with investigators focusing on the theory that the suspect harboured resentment against society as well as Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPOe).

He knew the victims, having regularly delivered their shopping from a shop run by his wife, and allegedly believed the elderly couple had links to the far-right.

But Sobotka told a press conference that the investigation had taken a turn after searches of the suspect's home and examination of his electronic data.

He declined to give further details on the evidence against the Tunisian, who had lived in Austria since 1989, or what he had said to investigators.

The Tunisian set fire to the couple's house before handing himself in to police, and remains in detention.

Chancellor Christian Kern urged an investigation “without delay” into the extremist threat to determine “where similar risks exist and how to combat them efficiently”.

While Austria has until now been spared the major attacks that have hit other European countries including France, Britain and Germany, a relatively high number of Austrians have left to wage jihad abroad.

The interior ministry estimates that 300 have quit Austria or tried to leave in order to fight in Syria or Iraq – a figure that is proportionately high in a population of 8.7 million.

There is no indication that the man suspected of murdering the elderly couple had travelled abroad to fight alongside extremist groups.

Most of those accused of jihadist links in Austria have been of Chechen or Bosnian origin.

Last year Austrian courts convicted 36 people of “belonging to a terrorist group”, including Mirsad Omerovic, a jihadist of Bosnian origin considered the central figure in Austria's extremist scene.

Austrain authorities have poured more resources into anti-terror operations since 2014, with 14 people arrested in January raids in Vienna and second city Graz, accused of links to Isis.

The same month, authorities announced they had foiled an imminent attack, arresting an 18-year-old Austrian.

Austria is gearing up for legislative elections in October, which are being closely fought between the social democrats, conservatives and the far-right.

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Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A fatal accident involving a speeding driver in the streets of Austria's capital Vienna has once again sparked the debate about illegal car racing in the country.

Does Austria have a street car racing problem?

A 26-year-old man sped through the streets of central Vienna in his Mercedes on a Sunday evening.

After he failed to stop at a red light he mowed into a car being driven by a 48-year-old woman. She later died in hospital.

The police had said a video recorder at the time of the accident showed evidence the driver was taking part in some kind of illegal race. Even though a Vienna court later said it saw “no evidence at all” that indicates street racing, the debate was already ignited.

Does Austria, and especially Vienna, have an illegal car racing problem?

According to the Viennese police, there are no statistics specifically for street racing. However, “there is an active racing scene in Vienna”, spokesperson Markus Dittrich told The Local.

READ ALSO: What happens if you get arrested in Austria?

Estimates put the number of “members of the illegal scene” in Vienna between 800 to 1,000 people. Current hotspots are still the area around Kahlenberg, Triester Straße, the Oberlaa area and the Kagran business park.

The police measured instances of speeding and from April to August 2022, around 6,500 reports were placed in the capital and 30 driving licenses were confiscated on site.

What are the police currently doing?

“In order to take decisive action against the active racing scene, checks have been significantly increased.”

“Furthermore, coordinated traffic planning checks are being carried out by the Vienna police department and various city police commands, and the relevant municipal departments are also involved”, Dittrich said.

In August, the City of Vienna took action in one of the “hotspots” for racing, adding 65 concrete barriers to prevent races in the car park in Kahlenberg, as The Local reported.

As racers move to different areas once blocks are put in place, the police also resort heavily on the two consequences it can impose: high fines and the revocation of driving licenses.”.

READ ALSO: Vienna wants to take action against speeding drivers

Fines can reach up to €5,000 on higher offences, such as driving 40 km/h or more over the speeding limit in a city (or 50 km/h above limits on a road). In addition, driving licences can be withheld for one month or three months in the case of repeated offences.

From an excess of 80 km/h, the license is taken away for half a year.

Calls for changes in the law

The recent debate in Austria has also now brought the issue of possible changes in the law, with experts claiming that the current legislation might not be sufficient.

Illegal racing is not a crime per se, but offences such as “endangering physical safety” or “deliberate endangerment of the public” are applied. If people are killed or injured, the crime is negligence – with up to three years in prison possible for those convicted of grossly negligent homicide.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about driving on the autobahn in Austria

Some are asking for “zero tolerance“, saying that the crimes should not be seen as negligence but as murder – those who drive too fast or under the influence of alcohol take a risk knowing they might kill someone.

Others, however, say that turning negligence into murder holds a trap. “Attempted murder is also punishable. So the penalty for just participating in an illegal auto race where nothing happened? In practice, for example, 12 years in prison for 350 meters of a car race on Triester Straße?” wrote Constitutional Court member Dr Michael Rami on Twitter.

Still, the head of the legal services at Austria’s traffic authority ÖAMTC, Martin Hoffer, told public broadcaster ORF: “To prove murder against someone, you, of course, have to prove the corresponding intentionality”.

“That doesn’t mean a specific intention to kill a certain person, but to seriously consider it possible (and to accept) that someone may die in that situation.” So, a racing driver may not set out to kill someone, but they acknowledge that their actions could result in somebody’s death.

That could be a realistic scenario in an illegal race – and the debate in Austria continues.