Austria to beef up counter-terrorism after ISIS attack that killed four in Vienna

New measures designed to target suspects and the ideology that motivates them

epa08802915 Armed Austrian police officers during a raid at a mosque in Vienna, Austria, 06 November 2020. According to reports, Austrian Interior Minister announced on 06 November the closure of all 'radical' mosques in the country after a terrorist attack on 02 November where four people were killed and 22 injured.  EPA/FELIX HUBER
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Terrorists could face life behind bars in a radical overhaul of Austria's laws in the aftermath of the Vienna ISIS attack.

Multiple failings by the security services led to convicted terrorist Kujtim Fejzulai killing four people in Vienna.

Despite having completed a deradicalisation programme and been on the radar of counter-terrorism police, Fejzulai was still able to commit the atrocity.

The government is now stepping up its “war on political Islam” and is proposing tougher measures to stop extremists.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and his cabinet have agreed on a wide range of anti-terrorism measures in a bid to iron out the security flaws identified after the deadly attack and stop "ticking time bombs" like Fejzulai.

Proposals include increased powers to keep convicted terrorists behind bars for life, electronic surveillance upon release of people convicted of terror-related offences and criminalising religiously motivated, political extremism.

Mr Kurz said the measures, which will be brought before Austria’s parliament in December for a vote, take a two-pronged approach, targeting both terror suspects and also the ideology that drives them.

“We will create a criminal offence called ‘political Islam’ in order to be able to take action against those who are not terrorists themselves, but who create the breeding ground for them," Mr Kurz tweeted after the Cabinet meeting.

"It is a strong intervention, but, from my point of view, a necessary step to minimise the threat to our population."

Four people were killed and 22 others wounded in the November 2 attack, before police shot Fejzulai dead.

The 20-year-old, a dual national of Austria and North Macedonia, was wearing a fake suicide vest during the attack. He had a previous conviction for trying to join ISIS in Syria but was given early release from prison in December.

An investigation has been launched into why the country did not have Fejzulai under observation, despite being tipped off by Slovakian authorities that he had tried to purchase ammunition at a shop in Bratislava in July.

Similarly, Austrian intelligence did not act after the attacker took part in a meeting with Islamists known to German security services.

Authorities say Fejzulai was partially radicalised in a mosque and an Islamic association in Vienna, both of which were shut down last week.

The new measures being considered also propose to strip people of Austrian citizenship if they are convicted of offences relating to terrorism, stop them receiving welfare benefits and have their driving licences revoked.

Mr Kurz said the government plans to simplify the process of shutting down associations or mosques deemed to play a role in radicalisation and enable the public to report potential ISIS activities on an online platform.

A central register of imams will also be created.

Austrian authorities have said they have been working closely with the FBI on the investigation, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office said that he talked on Wednesday to his Austrian counterpart, offering further support from Washington for the investigation.

On Monday, in unconnected raids, almost 1,000 police and intelligence service officers searched homes, businesses and associations allegedly tied to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, seizing millions of euros in cash across four provinces of Austria.

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