Austria arrests suspect for Syrian war recruitment

Photo: Austria arrests suspect for Syrian war recruitment / Arabic region

Austrian authorities have arrested a man suspected of radicalising Muslims and recruiting them to fight in Syria, a provincial state prosecutor said on Thursday.

A spokesman for the prosecutors' office in Graz, Austria's second city, said the suspect was detained two days ago following raids on buildings belonging to the city's Taqwa Islamic community, Reuters reported.

"He is suspected of radicalising people and recruiting them to fight in Syria," he said.

Four of them had already been killed in Syria, he said.

He declined to give details about the suspect but Profil magazine said was a 41-year-old Imam of Chechen origin whose recruits had joined the al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in Syria.

The arrest was made as European Union member states, fearful that hundreds of Europeans could carry out attacks at home after being trained in Syria, move towards closer coordination of efforts to prevent Muslims becoming radicalised.

Three people were shot dead at the Jewish Museum in Brussels last month. A 29-year-old Frenchman thought to have returned recently from Syria was arrested at the weekend over the May 24 killings.

Police in France, which has Europe's largest Muslim population, arrested a further four people on Monday suspected of ties with Islamist groups fighting in Syria.

A spokesman for Austria's interior ministry said Austria was working with other European countries to strengthen coordination and in particular to target youths in danger of being recruited for such wars with information campaigns.

"The phenomenon of recruiting is not limited to Austria. It is a challenge for most European countries," he said.

About 100 Austrians, home to roughly half a million Muslims or 6 percent of the total population, are estimated to be fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Two Viennese girls of Bosnian origin aged 15 and 16 disappeared in April and are still missing. Social media posts that subsequently emerged showed them in Islamic dress and saying they had gone to fight a "holy war".

Austria is now considering withdrawing Austrian citizenship or asylum status from people who go to fight in Syria or other foreign wars, so long as they have an alternative nationality they can assume.

The Graz prosecutors' office said six other suspects were under investigation but had not been arrested, and said police were now examining documents seized in the raids.

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