ISIL militants on rapid rise in Austria: Govt. warns

ISIL militants on rapid rise in Austria: Govt. warns
Fri Aug 22, 2014 21:18:01

Authorities suspect around 130 people resident in Austria - most of them foreign nationals - have allied themselves with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants fighting abroad, officials in Vienna said on Friday, raising their estimate by nearly a third.

Public Safety Director Konrad Kogler told a news conference the 130 figures included "people actively participating in combat as well as ones who have returned to Austria, because both groups of people are relevant for us".

He thought around two-thirds of them had come back to Austria and one-third were in battle or on the way there.

Officials were tracking the target group's foreign travel and monitoring their activities when they return given the security risk they might pose, he said.

He said 40 of the 130 were Austrian citizens. The others were primarily from Russia, the Balkans and Turkey. Austria has a population of around 8.5 million people. The subject is at the top of the news agenda in the neutral Alpine republic after police arrested nine people this week who prosecutors said were believed to be on their way to Syria to join ISIL terrorists.

They have not given any more details about the suspects' destination or said what forces they might have joined.

Kogler did not confirm reports that the nine suspects – one aged just 17 - were Chechens, but said many were Russian citizens.

The suspects had mostly come to Austria as young people and got political asylum that could be revoked should they be convicted of joining a terrorist organisation, officials said.

Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said support for radical militants was on the rise in Austria and called for closer European cooperation to address the issue.

"We need to close ranks across Europe in the fight against terrorism and extremism," she said, urging a policy of zero tolerance.

Several people have been arrested in Europe in recent months amid fears that fighters returning from Syria could stage attacks on European soil.


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