Survivor of Operation Luxor rejects prosecutor, accusing bias
One of the survivors of the Operation Luxor raids has rejected the prosecutor leading the investigation, accusing them of bias.This was based on a phone call conducted between the survivor’s lawyer and the public prosecutor.
The application submitted on behalf of the survivor states that the public prosecutor made unfavourable remarks about the judges of the Graz Higher Regional Court, who had declared – against the government – that the house searches were illegal.
It is now incumbent on the prosecution to examine internally if the telephone call went as described in the application and decide on appropriate actions accordingly – up to and including a change in prosecutor.
New expert advisor on the Operation Luxor case appointed, unlikely to offer any difference from government stance on Muslims
In June this year the controversial academics Heiko Heinisch and Nina Scholz were removed as expert advisors from the Operation Luxor case by Graz Higher Regional Court.This decision came after many of the survivors lodged objections against Heinisch and Scholz´s “expert” work.
In a statement written for the German Bundestag (Parliament), Steinberg argues that “political Islamism” and “militant Islamism” are the same phenomenon, and that attempting to separate them “does not reflect reality” – effectively collapsing an ideological position with violence.
Therefore it is not expected that Steinberg’s stances will differ drastically from Heinisch and Scholz, and are likely to reinforce the Austrian government’s preconceived ideas about Muslims and Islam.
KommAustria is permitted 72 hours to check whether “terrorist content” is being published or not.
If confirmed, KommAustria has the authority to demand the deletion of such content within one hour.
If platforms refuse to comply, heavy penalties are set to be implemented as sanctions.
Fines can go as high as 4 percent of the platforming company’s turnover.
Every report made to Kommaustria is sent to the police regardless of whether it has been declared as actual “terrorist content” or not, meaning there is a high chance of innocent people being put on police data list, without understanding the ramification of such an act.
This act, along with the corresponding EU statute and policy like Britain’s Online Safety Bill, form part of a larger move by governments to assert greater control over the online space and grant them greater powers to manage ‘unacceptable content’.Given existing Islamophobic sentiment fanned by the Austrian government, and without clearly defining what constitutes “terrorist content”, this act incorporates the Austrian public into monitoring and surveilling Muslims and Muslim content online, and could therefore lead to high self/censorship of Muslims online.
Young man sentenced to two years in prison for involvement in a terrorist militia in Syria
A man was sentenced to two years in prison on the charge of ‘involvement in a terrorist militia in Syria’.The 21 year old is said to have participated from August 2019 to autumn 2021 in military training and served as a guard in training camps for an organisation specified only as a successor organisation to the Al-Nusra Front.His case was built based on posts on Instagram, which apparently show the accused man as an armed soldier.
While the young man, who has fled the war in Syria, admitted to his involvement in the aforementioned organisation, he argued that this was not done voluntarily.Rather he stated that: “I fled the war in Syria and wanted to seek protection here. What happened in the past put me under a lot of pressure” adding that “I did things I didn’t want to do. We had to wear weapons and a military suit. The photos are not positive. [The organisation] forced us to take photos.”
As the public prosecutor has not made any statement on the verdict yet, it is not yet considered final. This is not the first case of its kind in Austria, where cases have not only been built largely on social media content, but have resulted in convictions.
Austrian Ministry, Israeli Embassy and the Danube University of Krems hold joint symposium on Counterterrorism
“Current challenges in the fight against terrorism – what Austria can learn from them” was the topic of the 2nd autumn symposium held on October 20, 2022 in Vienna.The symposium was attended by Franz Ruf, Director General for Public Security in the Ministry of the Interior; Mordechai Rodgold, the Ambassador of the State of Israel; and Friedrich Faulhammer, Rector of the University for Continuing Education Krems.
During his tenure as Interior Minister, current Chancellor Karl Nehammer granted funding worth €875,000 to the University for research and teaching in the field of “State security and the fight against terrorism and extremism” .The funding agreement is for 60 months and will conclude in 2026.
This joint Austrian-Israeli activity should be understood as part of the long term strategic agreement on security signed this summer between the state of Israel and Austria.
Individual sentenced for alleged role providing ‘ideological tools’ for 2020 Vienna attacker
At the Vienna Regional Court, an individual accused of being a contact of the Vienna attacker Kujtim Fejzulai was convicted of being part of a terrorist organisation and criminal organisation.The 24 year-old was said to have provided the attacker with ideological tools for his activity, and was sentenced to 19 months in prison.
His defense attorney claimed that the accused was a “completely normal man who opted for Salafism. That is not punishable” and argued that no evidence was provided to prove any actual complicity in the crime.
Majority of Graz Furkan mosque defendants acquitted of terror charges
The trial on terrorism charges against 14 members of the Graz Furkan Mosque concluded with most of the rulings ending in acquittals on the substantive charges.Nine of the defendants were found not guilty by the jury of the charges of: involvement in a terrorist organisation and a criminal organisation, terrorist financing and anti-state connection.
Three of the defendants were convicted on marginal aspects of the charges.A defendant, who has been convicted on five accounts previously, has been sentenced to 16 months in prison for terrorist financing. He is alleged to have transferred donations to ISIS.Another defendant without previous convictions, was sentenced to a year’s probation for the same charge. A young woman, who was allegedly seeking marriage from an alleged ISIS fighter to then head to Syria, faces a nine month conditional sentence. Since there was no statement issued by her, the guilt and the acquittals are not legally binding.
On the day of the verdict the court was judging only 12 of the 14 defendants, as the cases against two men were temporarily dropped during the course of the process, and will be adjudicated over separately.
Former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz founds cyber company with the inventor of surveillance software Pegasus
Under the company name Dream, Austrian ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and former NSO Group boss Shalev Hulio are planning to sell security software to companies in the critical infrastructure sector.According to a report in Israel’s Globe, they have already raised $20 million from investors.
After his resignation as Chancellor, Kurz first started at the investment company Thiel Capital, owned by Peter Thiel – co-founder of Palantir, which equips the US government with surveillance software, among other things.The use of Palantir software in Germany, for example by the police in North Rhine-Westphalia and in Hesse has been controversial for spiralling costs, as well for its role in unjustified dragnet searches as well as for questions over what data collected ends up in the USA.
Pegasus is the surveillance spyware software from the NSO Group, the Israeli company which Hulio co-founded and only recently left.The software, which allows remote access to phones, has been utilised by various repressive governments in order to surveille dissidents and activists – including Israel, India and Saudi Arabia.
NSO Group is said to be in financial difficulties; several employees were forced to leave and a buyer was being sought.
The fact that Kurz is venturing into the field of cyber security raises serious questions. During his tenure as Chancellor, the topic of IT security was already a hot topic.The company Cyan Networks – in whose parent company Kurz’s business partner Alexander Schütz is a major shareholder – has been responsible for website security in the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for years.
Chats uncovered by various news outlets revealed how fugitive Jan Marsalek could have possibly influenced a deal by the Kurz government. He and an ex-BVT department head coordinated a cyber crisis meeting of the republic with actors from Marsalek’s Wirecard environment.
Alexander Van der Bellen elected President for a second term
Federal President Alexander van der Bellen was re-elected in the Presidential election with 56.7 percent of the vote – he was backed by the ruling coalition partner Green Party, as well as the main opposition party SPÖ. The ruling party ÖVP did not run a candidate against him.
Walter Rosenkranz of the far-right FPÖ followed him in second place with 17.7 percent.Third place was taken by the Beer Party candidate Dominik Wlazny – who began his political career as a satirist – with 8.3 percent, closely followed by lawyer and “Krone” columnist Tassilo Wallentin with 8.1 percent.Former FPÖ and BZÖ politician Gerald Grosz came in fifth with 5.6 percent. Michael Brunner from the anti-vaccine MFG party reached 2.1 percent. 1.6 percent of those entitled to vote voted for the shoe manufacturer Heinrich Staudinger.
Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has achieved his election goal as he was elected in the first round for a second six-year term. This means that the other candidates failed in their goal of forcing Van der Bellen into a runoff.
The role of the president in Austrian politics is to a large extent symbolic, with political leadership resting with the Chancellor.In addition to representing Austria internationally one of the main responsibilities of the President is appointing the head of government and their Cabinet, dismissing the head of government and their Cabinet, appointing the highest-ranking government officials, signing bills into law, and serving as the military commander-in-chief.
Confession of former Finance Ministry Secretary General adds to scandals hitting Austrian ruling party
Thomas Schmid, the former Head of state-owned holding company ÖBAG (Österreichische Beteiligungs AG) and ex-Secretary General in the Ministry of Finance, has implicated numerous politicians and businessmen including himself in corruption allegations, deepening scandals among the ruling ÖVP.
Schmid made a confession to the Economic and Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (WKSta), in an attempt to secure leniency for himself.Some of the allegations revealed by Schmid included: comprehensive information about the survey affair, the “Beinschab-Österreich-Tool” and ex-Chancellor Kurz’s alleged involvement in the cause.Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is said to have embellish surveys in the newspaper “Österreich”, which were intended to advance his political career and were financed by fake bills or advertisements from the Ministry of Finance.
Schmid’s confession could potentially put many leading ÖVP politicians on trial. And if the court decides that there is a bound network of actors from varying sectors involved, charges could potentially include “organised governmental crime”.
Lack of permanent translator hinders Operation Luxor investigations two years on, further underscores failures of Austrian agencies
Two years following the Operation Luxor raids, investigations are faltering because of the lack of Arabic interpreters; the responsible Styrian state police still do not have a permanent translator.
At the state police headquarters in Styria, for example, not a single interpreter is permanently employed. The relevant staff available to the Styria and Vienna offices for the protection of the constitution can only be used on an hourly basis and cannot be utilised every day due to other activities.
This has major consequences as, in the course of Operation Luxor, investigators secured an immense amount of data – corresponding to a stack of A4 paper 5,000 kilometres long – of which 95 percent is written in Arabic.
Due to this lack of key resources many cases have been unnecessarily prolonged. Additionally, this news attests to Operation Luxor survivors’ testimonies of the sloppy interpretation of data and incorrect translations being presented to them as evidence during the interrogation.
The failure of Operation Luxor has become undeniably apparent. Now this news reveals poor investigative work – which only now, 2 years on from the Operation Luxor raids, and after inflicting an immense amount of trauma and brutality to the survivors, is being addressed.
Trial set to begin over alleged collusion in watershed 2020 Vienna attack
On November 2nd, 2020 a gunman opened fire in Austria’s capital Vienna, resulting in four deaths, and 23 people injured.The gunman Kujtim Fejzulai was shot dead by police at the scene of the crime.
This incident was used by the Austrian government of Sebastian Kurz to legitimise a subsequent major crackdown on Austrian Muslims, including through the Operation Luxor raids a week later.
A total of six men between the ages of 22 and 32 have been charged for allegedly assisting the gunman in preparation for the attack, with the trial against them set to commence on October 18th.According to the Vienna public prosecutor’s office, these men were not directly involved in the attack, but are accused of having actively helped Fejzulai.
Two of the accused are alleged to have visited the killer in his apartment shortly before the attack, and another is said to have been responsible for planning and also taught him how to use the rapid-fire weapon. A further man is alleged to have identified the target with Fejzulai, and the sixth is said to have been a co-organiser.
The main charges are as follows: involvement in terrorist offenses in connection with murder, terrorist organisation and criminal organisation. The main hearing will extend over several months. For the time being, 17 days of trial are planned, and there will be no judgments before February 2023.
Despite the repressive and unlawful Operation Luxor raids having been framed by the then-Interior Minister, and now Chancellor, Karl Nehammer as a necessary response to the 2nd November attack, these trials and charges are proof that the survivors of Operation Luxor have no connection to the 2nd November attack.
German expert group on “Political Islamism” is dissolved
The Expert Group on Political Islamism of Germany set up by former Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (Christian Social Union – CSU) was dissolved by current Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (Social Democratic Party of Germany – SPD). The group, which only started work last year, has stopped working again.
Interior Minister Faeser argued that combatting “rightwing extremism” is a more pressing issue. However there are reasons to believe that the dissolution of the Expert Group might be a political decision, or because some of its members are said to have ties to third party countries, including the UAE.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Ministry of the Interior told the German press agency dpa that the Group’s ‘scientific perspective was sufficiently limited’, and therefore that it is appropriate to continue the exchange of experts in a different form, with specific details to be worked out.According to her “It is planned to hold a regular symposium in which the [Expert Group] network will be a crucial part.”
Germany’s Expert Group is said to have been established on the example of the Austrian Documentation Center on Political Islam. In fact some of the experts on the German group are affiliated with the Austrian Documentation Center, which provided the ‘intellectual cover’ for the repressive Operation Luxor raids and other discriminatory policies enacted against Muslims in Austria.
The Expert Group on Political Islamism makes clear that the Islamophobic network of “intellectuals” and “academics” which operates to prepare the intellectual grounds for Islamophobic policies in Austria is also working to implement similar approaches in Germany.
Members of the Furkan Mosque charged with terrorism-related offences, largely stemming from Facebook posts
It is worth noting that in Britain, there has been recent concern even from within the ranks of the security apparatus about the over-use of ‘online terrorism’ prosecutions, and the fact that very young people are being prosecuted for online offences.And yet, the Online Safety Bill currently going through Parliament in Britain would enable a greater crackdown on content online – including under the rubric of countering terrorism.
17 year-old citizen of Turkish descent detained for terrorism-related offences, released
The 17-year old was accused of disseminating “terrorist” propaganda, condoning crimes committed by a terrorist organisation, and of “radicalising” a young female. The young woman was questioned immediately after the 17-year-old was arrested and her house was also searched; she was reported as being at large.
Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz sabotages questioning in corruption investigation committee
Ex-Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (of the ruling ÖVP – Austrian People’s Party) is the central figure of several corruption scandals of the ÖVP.These scandals relate to the filling of governmental posts, manipulation of surveys and advertisements, and tax breaks for the super-rich – all under his chancellorship.
The ÖVP assisted Kurz as much as possible, blocking questions and delaying the survey with more than 20 requests to speak on the rules of procedure.
As a result of the delaying tactics, Kurz was not questioned by the far-right FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) and the Green Party due to time. Therefore, all parties – except the ÖVP – are seeking to re-invite Kurz for questioning.
Although Austria initiated many Islamophobic policies and meassures under the regime of Ex-Chancellor Kurz, including the Operation Luxor raids – now deemed unlawful – Kurz was not questioned about his maltreatment of the Austrian Muslim minority during the investigation.
The ÖVP corruption investigation committee began its work in December 2021. There have been 27 meetings so far. 50 respondents were questioned over 24 survey days.
Most recently, the committee of inquiry questioned former ministers Margarete Schramböck and Elisabeth Köstinger and President of the National Council Wolfgang Sobotka, who remained very secretive on questions pertaining to the Operation Luxor raids.Sobotka, who was Austria’s Interior Minister in 2017, claimed to not know who the academic Lorenzo Vidino is, despite his work being central to security measures taken against Muslims by the Austrian government. Regarding the Muslim Brotherhood he refused to openly respond, arguing that the organisation in question operates underground.
As part of their 2017 election programme, the ÖVP co-funded a study through the ÖIF (Austrian Integration Fund) which is under the umbrella of the interior ministry, on the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, which was conducted by Lorenzo Vidino to the cost of 80,000€.
Now the opposition also wants to add the controversial “Operation Luxor” raids and the ousted “experts” Nina Scholz and Heiko Heinisch to the agenda of the ÖVP corruption investigation committee.The ministries of Justice and Home Affairs are to provide files on this. SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria), FPÖ (Freedom Party of Austria) and Neos want to clarify possible political influence on the investigative work.
After the summer break on September 6th, the questioning in the parliamentary inquiry committee on the alleged corruption of the ÖVP continues. Amongst others, former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Integration Minister Susanne Raab (responsible for the Islam Map) are to be questioned.
Investigations against foundation and three of its board members are closed
The investigation against the charitable foundation Anas Schakfeh in connection with Operation Luxor has been dropped, the public prosecutor’s office in Graz confirmed on Monday.
A house search took place at the private foundation in November 2020 in the course of the Operation Luxor raids, which the higher regional court classified as illegal a year ago, the association announced in a broadcast.
Like many other associations, the foundation had been screened by investigators for possible contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as suspicions of terrorist financing and the formation of a terrorist organisation.There were numerous house searches and investigations against around 70 people in the states of Styria, Carinthia, Lower Austria and Vienna.
In the summer of 2021 the raids were declared to have been partly unlawful, after the Graz Higher Regional Court upheld several complaints against the measure.
Operation Luxor survivors win a defamation case against key witness
In a July 2021 interview with Amir Zaidan on the online medium exxpress.at, one of the key witnesses of the Graz prosecution authority named suspects and made various allegations.In the conversation, which is no longer available on the exxpress website, Zaidan alleged that the political scientist Farid Hafez and another individual were Muslim Brotherhood members, and that the organisation was “Islamist” and militant.
The Muslim Youth Austria (MJÖ), was described by Zaidan as a cadre force for the Muslim Brotherhood, while the MJÖ successfully took legal action against it.
The judge convicted Amir Zaidan of a fine totalling 3,500€ ; 25€ a day for 140 days. Half of the conviction is conditionally suspended for two years. For Romstorfer, the incriminated quotes were presented as statements of fact rather than a personal evaluation, he explained.
The Graz Higher Regional Court decision was based on a complaint submitted by a survivor of the raids about a 2017 television programme that dealt with Islamic kindergartens featuring Heinisch.The complaint argued that his contribution to the program could have given the false impression that a named individual was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, with ties to terrorist organisations
From the court’s point of view, it was argued that his appearance in the programme could raise doubts as to whether Heinisch was “actually completely neutral” towards the accused. Heinisch’s colleague Scholz is also included in the decision.This is especially important given that in the later report on Operation Luxor, the position of the accused individual “is used as a key indicator for designating the respective institution as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood or as part of its network”.
Both Heinisch and Scholz are involved with nefarious Documentation Centre for Political Islam and have been involved with the Austrian Integration Fond (ÖIF) which plays a role in supporting the governing ÖVP´s anti-Muslim policies. The Islamophobic ‘Islam Map’ was supported by studies from Heinisch, song others.
Graz Higher Regional Court declares the surveillance and account opening of “Liga Kultur” association in Operation Luxor as illegal
As a result the audio and visual surveillance of the association and its members must be completely destroyed. The Higher Regional Court finally states that “according to the file situation, however, no results were obtained”. There is no further right of appeal against the decision of the court.
This is significant in that every attempt by the public prosecutor’s office in Graz to turn the investigation towards equating membership of the Muslim Brotherhood with membership of a terrorist organisation was struck down by the court.The reason given was that the Muslim Brotherhood is one of the largest political currents in Islam, and that to describe them or members as terrorists would be inadmissible.
This means that the central thesis of Operation Luxor as laid out by the now ousted experts Nina Scholz and Heiko Heinisch – namely, that being part of the Muslim Brotherhood equates to being part of a terrorist organisation – has been legally debunked.This further highlights the unlawful and oppressive nature of the Operation Luxor raids as an attempt to criminalise and silence Muslim activists and organisations.
The issue implicates Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who was responsible for the election campaign – placing him at the centre of one of the ÖVP’s many scandals again.
This news is significant, as it cast major doubts on current Chancellor Nehammer’s ability to portray his leadership of the ÖVP as a break from the direction of his successor Sebastian Kurz, who had to resign amidst major corruption scandals.
An injunction was issued against university professor Dr. Ednan Aslan, from the Institute for Islamic Theological Studies at the University of Vienna.
The ‘Islamologist’ Dr. Amir Zaidan was confirmed in the preliminary injunction already issued by the Vienna Commercial Court.
Aslan had falsely claimed in an online video discussion in “Der Standard”, an Austrian newspaper, that the MJÖ and its chairman were engaged in “agitation” and made “active contributions to violence in society” and “spread false information.”The Vienna Higher Regional Court made a statement in its decision that the right to freedom of expression cannot justify disparaging political opponents through factually untrue allegations.
Meanwhile in an interview with the online platform “Exxpress”, Zaidan had alleged that the MJÖ was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood on a personal and non-material level and that it was being influenced by them.In doing so, he had made use of unfounded allegations which the MJÖ had successfully taken legal action against in the past.
Zaidan’s false allegations and incriminating statements were judged by the court to be credit-damaging and libellous.
According to the Criminal Court of Graz, the list of criteria for determining who is to be qualified as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood corresponds to someone who locates “Islamophobia”, Islamophobia, in Western societies.
The Criminal Court of Graz has made the argument that ‘Islamophobia’ is a term instrumentalized by the Muslim Brotherhood, as a propagandistic strategy to emphasise the victimhood of Muslims in the west.
Labelling the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists, and conflating Muslim advocacy groups writ large with affiliation to the Brotherhood, has been a central plank of the Austrian government’s attack on Muslim civil society, including for Operation Luxor.
Yet even the Higher Regional Court in Graz found that due to the “diversity” of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is highly speculative to argue that any alliance could be considered terrorist activity, which weakens a key element of the state’s rationale around Operation Luxor.
This decision by the Criminal Court of Graz brazenly criminalises Muslim activism and intellectualism in Austria while simultaneously serving as means to silence any Muslim opposition to the status quo and the ruling government.
Winklhofer is leading the investigations into one of the largest and probably most controversial proceedings in Austria: Operation Luxor. As part of the operation, dozens of raids against the members of the Muslim community took place in the name of fighting so-called “political Islam”.
As yet none of those targeted have been arrested or found guilty. On the contrary, there have already been setbacks in the operation as the higher regional court in Graz declared the raids illegal.
Winklhofer’s plan to investigate the three suspects and the Muslim activist raises the prospect of Muslims in Austria being punished or even prosecuted because they threaten or intend to use permissible legal means to defend themselves.
Local governments back down on the headscarf ban in kindergartens, while federal government maintains it
Although the headscarf ban for elementary school students introduced in 2019 under the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition government was lifted by the Constitutional Court (VfGH), the headscarf ban in kindergartens still applies.
This move indicates the continuity of the current course regarding Muslim issues by the Federal government.
Allies of disgraced former Chancellor step down from ministerial roles, signalling shifting balance within ruling party
Agriculture Minister Elisabeth Köstinger and Economy Minister Margarete Schramböck, both close allies to disgraced former Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, have stepped down.
This is an effort for Karl Nehammer, the current Chancellor and leader of the ruling rightwing ÖVP party to signal a distancing from Kurz`s ÖVP and a return to the old-school ÖVP and its ‘Christian democratic’ values.
Nehammer himself was responsible for overseeing Operation Luxor, and Susanne Raab the ÖVP Minister for Integration is still in position.
Raab is responsible for the racist Islam Map and has been involved in many measures against Muslims in Austria; therefore it is safe to argue that despite Nehammer’s rebranding little is expected to change federal level regarding the Islamophobic measures which have taken place under Kurz’s tenure.