Austria to close seven mosques, expel imams in radicalism crackdown
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Austria to close seven mosques, expel imams in radicalism crackdown

Move by conservative government follows plans to ban girls’s headscarves in elementary schools and kindergartens

Austria's newly elected leader Sebastian Kurz, head of the Austrian Peoples Party, OVP, during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, October 24, 2017. (AFP Phoro/APA/Georg Hochmuth)
Austria's newly elected leader Sebastian Kurz, head of the Austrian Peoples Party, OVP, during a news conference in Vienna, Austria, October 24, 2017. (AFP Phoro/APA/Georg Hochmuth)

Austria’s government said Friday that it is closing seven mosques and plans to expel imams in a crackdown on “political Islam” and foreign financing of religious groups.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the government is shutting a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna and dissolving a group called the Arab Religious Community that runs six mosques.

The actions by the government are based on a 2015 law that, among other things, prevents religious communities from getting funding from abroad. Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of around 40 imams employed by ATIB, a group that oversees Turkish mosques in Austria, are being reviewed because of concerns about such financing.

Kickl said that, in two cases, permits have already been revoked. Five more imams were denied first-time permits.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, right, of the Austrian People’s Party and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party give a news conference in Vienna after their first Cabinet meeting, December 19, 2017. (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

The conservative Kurz became chancellor in December in a coalition with the anti-migration Freedom Party. He is expected to visit Israel this month, despite tensions between Jerusalem and Vienna over the inclusion of a far-right party in the Austrian government.

In campaigning for last year’s election, both coalition parties called for tougher immigration controls, quick deportations of asylum-seekers whose requests are denied and a crackdown on radical Islam. The government recently announced plans to ban girls in elementary schools and kindergartens from wearing headscarves, adding to existing restrictions on veils.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz told reporters in Vienna. He added that the government’s powers to intervene “were not sufficiently used” in the past.

Friday’s measures are “a first significant and necessary step in the right direction,” said Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party’s leader. “If these measures aren’t enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there.”

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