Austria’s refusal to break ties with Iran, a sentiment that crosses the political spectrum in Vienna, has been long known, and followed intensely by Benjamin Weinthal. Here is yet another look into that political swamp, and it’s not surprising what is found.
Austria’s radical Islam problem
Berlin — The small Central European country of Austria has recently made headlines because of its jihadi teenagers who have gone to fight in Syria. But Austria’s radical Islam problem stretches beyond the Islamic State’s recruitment of young Austrian men and women. The Alpine state has become a hub of extremism that includes not only Islamic State terrorism but also Iranian nuclear proliferation activities as well as active support for Hamas.
Islamic State activity in Austria
“ISIS: Austria is terror hotspot,” ran the headline of an interview published in September by the Österreich newspaper’s online news outlet.
In April, Samra Kesinovic, 17, and Sabina Selimovic, 15, two Austrian girls who had been radicalized by a local mosque, departed to join the Islamic State in Syria. The girls left notes in their bedrooms that said “Don’t look for us. We will serve Allah–and we will die for him,” according to Austrian police.
Regretting their decision, the girls sought in October to return to Vienna. The girls, of Bosnian background, are now believed to be in Raqqah, the Islamic State’s so-called capital, in Syria. “Jihadi brides” is the term some reports have used to describe the girls’ alleged status as wives of Islamic State combatants.
Then in late October, Sabina denied that she wanted to return to Austria, telling the French magazine Paris Match that she wished to stay in Syria because she feels “free” there. “[Here] I can practice my religion,” and, “in Vienna I couldn’t,” she said.
Austrian security experts believe she was strong-armed into denying that she is being held against her will.
In an email response to a Long War Journal media query, Karl-Heinz Grundböck, a spokesman for Austria’s interior ministry, said that “according to current information there are approximately 150 Austrians” fighting as foreign combatants in Syria. “More than 60” Austrian fighters have returned from Syria, he said. Grundböck flatly denied that Austria is a hub of jihadist activity.
In a separate case of adolescent jihadism in Vienna in late October, the Islamic State offered $25,000 to Mertkan G., a 14-year-old boy, to detonate a series of bombs in Vienna. According to Austria’s largest mass circulation daily, Kronen Zeitung, Mertkan, the son of Turkish immigrants who lived in Austria for eight years, planned to bomb the Westbahnhof train station, and had downloaded instructions from the Internet on how to assemble explosives.
Strong Iranian presence in Vienna
Iran’s regime maintains a strong presence in Vienna, largely because it is the headquarters of OPEC and the IAEA. Porous counterterrorism laws make it easy for Iranian agents to continue work on evading nuclear sanctions.
In 2012, The Telegraph reported: “At least two visits this year to Vienna by a senior departmental director have been used to carry out transactions worth millions of euros, according to sources. Western officials confirmed the official is a regular visitor to the Austrian capital and has traveled for extended stays each year since 2007.”
The senior departmental director is from Iran’s Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation. The US Treasury Department designated both the agent and the Center for Innovation and Technology Cooperation for illegal nuclear proliferation activity.
According to The Telegraph, the agent’s network brought into Europe funds that were “handed to money lenders in Austria, Germany and Italy. Payments from the network have been documented as transfers to accounts as far as Russia and China to pay for goods that are subsequently sent to Iran.” Austria’s interior ministry said there was “no criminal investigation” in connection with Tehran allegedly using its financial system to launder money.
Austria’s 2012 domestic agency report stated: “In the period under review, concrete proliferation-relevant activities were observed in connection with North Korea and Iran.”