Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked Austria’s impending closure of mosques and consequent expulsion of Turkish-funded imams, saying the move is anti-Islamic while promising a response.
“These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent,” Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul covered by AFP.
Austria’s populist government made the announcement on Friday morning at a press conference as part of the governing coalition’s campaign against radical Islamic ideology and the influence of countries like Turkey in the Austrian Islamic community, Kronen Zeitung reports.
Media reports that between 40 and 60 imams, including their families, could be expelled in total. The imams all stand accused of receiving funding from abroad. Official investigations have been launched in 11 cases. Two of the imams had already been denied extensions to their residency permits.
Among the mosques facing closure is the Mosque of the Grey Wolves on Antonsplatz, in the working-class Vienna district of Favoriten, where the Gallipoli reenactment took place.
The other six mosques are in Vienna, Upper Austria and Carinthia, in all of which hardline salafist teachings are said to be widespread.
Mr. Erdogan, speaking Saturday, said: “They say they’re going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?”
“That means we’re going to have to do something,” he added without elaborating.
Around 360,000 people of Turkish origin live in Austria, including 117,000 Turkish nationals.
Relations between Ankara and Vienna have been strained since a failed coup against Erdogan in 2016 which was followed by a wave of arrests. Mr. Erdogan’s speech precedes presidential and legislative elections on June 24 in which he faces stiff opposition.
During last year’s Turkish referendum on expanding the president’s powers, tensions ran high between Vienna and Ankara after Austria said it would not allow campaign-related events.
The new policy comes after a number of scandals involving mosques in Austria, including one in which Islamists were plotting to overthrow the government to replace it with an Islamic caliphate. The ATIB association came under fire last week when a Turkish mosque posted images of young children swearing oaths to the Turkish state.