This forms part of CAGE’s report Operation Luxor: Unravelling the myths behind Austria’s largest ever peacetime police raids

Download the report here

View the rest of the project at our report hub here


 

The official wanted to know: what does Bilal prioritise more: the Shari’a or Austrian law. 

They also presented photos of Bilal at a demonstration against al-Sisi, and asked him about his view on Israel.

Bilal is a mosque imam.
Ever since the passage of the 2015 Islam law in Austria he had felt uneasy about his fate in the country, especially as a known figure. 

A deeply unpleasant experience with Austrian police had only exacerbated that feeling. After contacting police about a fire at his apartment, he was himself accused by them of starting it.

During the 4-5 years that the case dragged on, he was interrogated about his khutbas, and about why he was preaching against Egyptian President al-Sisi and Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

“My first thought was whether my wife was still alive”

On the night of Operation Luxor, Bilal and some others came together to discuss Austria’s Islam Law. He went to sleep late and shortly before 5am was woken to voices and noises that he had never heard before.

The first things he thought were “Did my wife die? Are the attackers who see the mosque as too ‘liberal’ coming for us?”

Bilal called out his son’s name, before entering the living room door, when he finally realised what was happening.

There, he was shocked at the sight of Cobra officers with laser pointers aimed at him. He quickly closed the living room door before the officers tore through it, shouting at everyone to put their hands up.

An officer moved to grab Bilal and he tried to resist. Then he  felt the sensation of being thrown in the air and then pushed to the ground. Once on the ground, the officers kicked his feet and one pressed into his ribs with their knee. 

Bilal screamed that his ribs hurt, and was so afraid for his life that he recited the Shahadah.
The police officers turned his head to the side so that they could take a picture of his face, while he was laying down.

At this point, none of the gun-wielding officers had identified themselves.

To this day Bilal can feel their fingerprints on his neck, and pain in his ribs.

The officers were no less heavy-handed to Bilal’s family. They all had their weapon safety off, ready to fire. They treated Bilal’s 21-year old son as brutally as they had Bilal, while his 19-year old daughter was pushed onto her bed with an officer’s gun barrel.

The experience caused Bilal’s wife to faint.

The lead officer treated the family in a way that was calculated to humiliate them. 

Bilal was not allowed to go to the bathroom or to pray. When he asked the children in Arabic if they were okay, the officers shouted at him, and then began threatening him. 

Bilal  got up and shouted back, and the officers left him alone.

After 40-50 minutes of rummaging through the home, one officer finally presented a search warrant which they tried to pressure Bilal to sign. He refused.

 

He told them “If you want me to answer these questions, get a theologian who can understand” 

A policeman gave Bilal something to wear and said “get dressed and come with me”.

He wondered to himself what his neighbours would think, seeing him being taken away by 30-40 police officers.

Minister of the Interior Karl Nehammer was waiting downstairs. There were police cars everywhere. An armed officer sat next to him, with his gun trained on Bilal.

At the station, Bilal thought he was being arrested. The police told him to call his lawyer, but he didn’t have a mobile on him. They gave him a phone and he called his other son who lives away from home. Within an hour his son came to find Bilal crying and in pain.

Shockingly, once Bilal’s son arrived, the LVT officer admitted that he knew Bilal is not a terrorist, is not dangerous, and does not belong to any terror organisation.

They called Bilal’s lawyer and proceeded to a 10 hour long interrogation, during which Bilal  was offered nothing to eat.

They asked questions about his family, about his ideology and about Islam.

He told the officer: “You are not competent enough to understand my answers. If you want me to answer these questions, get a theologian who can understand.” 

The officer tried to persuade Bilal to have a ‘private conversation’. Bilal told him: “The Quran is law for me and all that is written in it and your interpretation of it is a Western one and you do not understand”. 

The official wanted to know: what does Bilal prioritise more: the Shari’a or Austrian law. He asked specifically about female circumcision, about whether it would be okay to kill someone who left Islam, about homosexuals and whether his daughter could marry a non-Muslim.

They also presented photos of Bilal at a demonstration against al-Sisi, and asked him about his view on Israel.

For Bilal the whole operation was and still is a clear case of intimidation.

He continues to speak out against injustice

After the raid, Bilal preached about his experiences during a khutba at the mosque.
Not one person came up afterwards to ask how he was doing. 

He is stalked by a sense of uneasiness, caused by the lack of closure.

Bilal’s eight-year old daughter was with her mother during the raid, and didn’t even cry as it unfolded. It was only after the raid was over that she broke down. Since then, she has begun to wet the bed.

Bilal’s 19-year old son and 16-year old daughter were hit the hardest.

Bilal had already lived with the thought that a raid might happen, before Operation Luxor even took place. Bilal describes it as a reassurance and confirmation that he is on the right side of justice, to find himself in opposition to a government like this one. 

He preaches the same way he preached before Operation Luxor – his mosque is the only mosque that talks about social issues, political and social aspects.

Bilal is firm in his convictions, and fears none but Allah.

In his words, 

“Operation Luxor is an extension of actions coming from the Arab region to erase any kind of Islamic identity. It is all about targeting active actors and minds that spread a correct Islamic understanding, and to smash them just so that later you can do anything you want to do with Muslims at large”.

 

Image used courtesy of Unsplash/Bayu Syaits 

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)