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Austria plans to shut down mosques, expel foreign-funded imams

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attends a news conference in Vienna

Austria‘s right-wing government plans to shut down seven mosques and expel up to 40 imams in what it said was “just the beginning” of a push against Islamist ideology and foreign funding of religious groups.

The coalition government, an alliance of conservatives and the far right, came to power soon after Europe’s migration crisis on promises to prevent another influx and clamp down on benefits for new immigrants and refugees.

In a previous job as minister in charge of integration, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz oversaw the passing of a tough “law on Islam” in 2015, which banned foreign funding of religious groups and created a duty for Muslim societies to have “a positive fundamental view towards (Austria‘s) state and society”.

“Political Islam’s parallel societies and radicalising tendencies have no place in our country,” Kurz told a news conference outlining the government’s decisions, which were based on that law.

Austria, a country of 8.8 million people, has roughly 600,000 Muslim inhabitants, most of whom are Turkish or have families of Turkish origin.

One society that runs a mosque in Vienna and is influenced by the “Grey Wolves”, a Turkish nationalist youth group, would be shut down for operating illegally, the government said in a statement.

An Arab Muslim group that runs at least six mosques would also be shut down, it added.

“This is just the beginning,” far-right Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache told the news conference held by four cabinet members.

The ministers said up to 60 imams belonging to ATIB, a Muslim group close to the Turkish government, could be expelled from the country or have visas denied on grounds of receiving foreign funding.

A government handout put the number at 40, of whom 11 were under review and two had already received a negative ruling.


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