Austria says it will shut down several mosques

Austria's government said Friday it will close seven mosques, and plans to expel imams in a crackdown on "political Islam" and foreign financing of religious groups.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz says country can't abide 'parallel societies' and radical Islam

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is shown earlier this week in Brussels. In addition to closing a small number of mosques, the Austrian government is reviewing residency permits for several imams. (Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

Austria's government said Friday it will close 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 the Arab Religious Community, which 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Kickl said that, in two cases, permits have already been revoked.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.

"This is just the beginning," far-right Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache told a news conference.

"If these measures aren't enough, we will if necessary evaluate the legal situation here or there."

The conservative Kurz became chancellor in December in a coalition with the anti-migration Freedom Party.

As minister in charge of integration, Kurz helped spearhead the 2015 law, which created a duty for Muslim societies to have "a positive fundamental view towards [Austria's] state and society."

Turkey condemns 'Islamophobic' move

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 restrictions on veils.

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

Imams in Austria gather in front of a mosque in Vienna on June 14, 2017, expressing their solidarity against extremism. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

Austria, with a population of 8.8 million, has roughly 600,000 Muslim inhabitants, most of them Turkish or with families of Turkish origin.

A spokesperson for Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's said the decision "is a reflection of the Islamophobic, racist and discriminatory wave in this country."

"It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points," Ibrahim Kalin wrote on Twitter. He added "the Austrian government's ideologically charged practices are in violation of universal legal principles, social integration policies, minority rights and the ethics of co-existence."

With files from Reuters