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Overview:  U.S.-Austrian law enforcement cooperation remained strong.  U.S. law enforcement agencies continued to assist in investigations of the 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna, during which a 20-year-old Austrian of North Macedonia origin killed four persons and injured 23 others.  Parliament passed additional counterterrorism legislation, including on Hizballah, providing additional funding of $137 million for 2021-24, and $5.8 million to fight cybercrime.  Parliament also passed legislation to reform the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, Austria’s key counterterrorism agency within the Interior Ministry, and replaced it December 1 with the Directorate for Security and Intelligence (DSN).

Reforms included increased staffing of the agency’s “extremism” section and hiring more highly qualified personnel.  DSN’s new chief said in late 2021 that “radical elements” exploiting protests against COVID-19 restrictions constituted one of Austria’s top security concerns.  Other counterterrorism raids and investigations focused on “Islamist extremism,” alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the “right-wing extremist scene,” which promoted anti-Muslim and antimigrant violence.  Austrian courts continued to impose stiff prison sentences for convicted “Islamist terrorists.”

The DSN monitors an estimated 90 people who returned to Austria from conflict zones, and the Interior Ministry estimated at the end of 2021 that 100 Austrian FTFs were still in Syria and Iraq.  Overall, Austrian officials note that “Islamist terrorist” mobilization substantially declined after 2015.

Austria is a member of the Defeat-ISIS Coalition’s Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Stabilization working groups, with emphases on stabilization, the problem of FTFs, and countering violent extremism.  Law enforcement agencies focused on intelligence gathering and investigations, as well as on sharing information with international partners.  Austria has contributed significant humanitarian aid and separate funding for stabilization related to Defeat-ISIS efforts.  Austria maintains an embassy in Damascus (the ambassador is accredited to Lebanon and Syria and based in Beirut, traveling periodically to Damascus).

2021 Terrorist Incidents:  There were no reported terrorist incidents in Austria in 2021.  Investigations continued into the aforementioned 2020 terrorist attack in Vienna by the 20-year-old Austrian of North Macedonian origin.  Police killed the attacker.  Since the attack, investigators determined the terrorist acted alone but received encouragement from four ISIS sympathizers, and he received material support, including assistance obtaining ammunition, from three others.  Authorities are holding these seven accomplices in pretrial detention.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security:  Parliament passed sweeping counterterrorism legislation in 2021 in response to that 2020 terrorist attack.  The legislation provided more staff, funding, and legal tools for justice and law enforcement authorities to detain, prosecute, and deradicalize potential terrorists.  The legislation also increased resources for monitoring and deradicalization of convicted terrorists, allowed electronic tracking of released offenders, and prohibited them from visiting certain potentially radicalizing sites (e.g., some specific mosques).  It also allowed authorities to strip dual-national convicts of Austrian citizenship, expanded oversight of mosques and financing of Muslim institutions, and banned symbols of Hizballah and the “right-wing extremist” Identitarians.  The law also tightened legislative loopholes against terrorism financing and brought Austrian legislation in line with EU directive 2018/1673 on combating money laundering in criminal law.

In November, an appellate court declared the 2020 raids by Austrian authorities against suspected members of the Muslim Brotherhood illegitimate in 10 cases and concluded that related property seizures and confiscations in those cases also were illegal.  Investigations continue against other suspects charged in those raids.

Austrian law enforcement and DSN officials routinely cooperated with U.S. law enforcement in a range of areas, including joint investigative projects and enforcement operations.  Austria has taken a whole-of-government approach to implement UN Security Council resolutions on counterterrorism as well as the Global Counterterrorism Forum Good Practices on Addressing the Challenge of Returning Families of FTFs.  Austrian law punishes “travel for terrorism purposes” with prison sentences of six months to five years, extends domestic jurisdiction to individuals in Austria who committed a crime abroad, and ensures legal counsel for terror victims.  This law implements the EU Directive on Combating Terrorism and the UN’s International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism.

In 2021, Austria extended temporary border checks with its Schengen Zone neighbor countries, introduced in 2016, and announced it was adding 1,000 soldiers at its eastern borders to thwart increased illegal border crossings.  Regulations allow border authorities to prevent minors from leaving Austria on suspicion they would participate in foreign fighting activities.  Border security forces continued to make effective use of security measures, including biographic and biometric screening at ports of entry, and information sharing internally and with other EU countries. Austria’s rigorous processes to register and screen individuals applying for asylum, lawful residence, and citizenship remained unchanged in 2021.  EU and Austrian privacy statutes occasionally limit Austria’s ability to fully utilize tools available through international cooperation.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism:  Austria is a member FATF.  The Austrian Financial Intelligence Unit is a member of the Egmont Group.  Related legislation aims to close loopholes in Austria’s laws against financing of terrorism and bring them into conformity with pertinent EU legislation.

Countering Violent Extremism:  Austrian, Belgian, Danish, and French government representatives announced joint cooperation projects in fighting radicalization and Islamist extremism at a Vienna conference in October, and Austria announced it would also seek similar cooperative arrangements with other countries.  Efforts in combating what the Austrian government has called “political Islam” have been controversial, including the establishment of a Documentation Office on Political Islam in 2020 and the government’s publication of an “Islam Map” identifying the locations of Muslim institutions in Austria.

Austria’s national action plan on Extremism Prevention and Deradicalization calls for improved networking among law enforcement agencies and civil society institutions; extension of exit programs for individuals radicalized to violence; better “transition management” through decoupling of terrorism convicts from their terrorist communities; increased civics and democracy education in schools; research on extremist and antidemocratic movements; providing counternarratives to radicalization myths through information campaigns; and inclusion of the findings of the Documentation Office on Political Islam.

The Ministry of European and International Affairs continued its cooperation with the Islamic faith community to conduct information campaigns in mosques, Islamic organizations, community centers, and prisons.

International and Regional Cooperation:  Austria hosted Western Balkan leaders in June to discuss measures against terrorism, organized crime, and illegal migration.  Austria participates in Eurojust’s EU-wide register, which lists ongoing terrorism investigations by EU member states.

Austria has membership in the following organizations:

  • The UN
  • The EU
  • The Council of Europe
  • The OSCE
  • The Salzburg Forum
  • The Central European Initiative
  • The Western Balkans Counter Terrorism Initiative

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future