Austria Closes 7 Mosques and Seeks to Expel Imams Paid by Turkey

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Under the Islam law, Muslim religious organizations are banned from receiving the bulk of their financing from sources outside Austria. But many imams working in those organizations do so through the Turkish-Islamic Union for Cultural and Social Cooperation, known by the initials A.T.I.B., and are civil servants of the Turkish government.

Speaking at the news conference, the Austrian interior minister, Herbert Kickl, said the authorities were reviewing the residence permits of about 40 imams employed by A.T.I.B., and their family members, over concerns they were being paid from abroad. He added that the permits of two others had already been revoked and that Austria had decided not to grant initial visas to five more.

Yasar Ersoy, a spokesman for the organization, told the public broadcaster ORF that the religious leaders were paid by Diyanet, the Directorate of Religious Affairs, which is based in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

The mosques and the imams have the right to challenge the order, the government said.

Turkey has criticized Austria for what it sees as anti-Islam stances, but its foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, tried to mend ties in a visit to Vienna in March. Austria has opposed Turkey’s accession to the European Union, and has angered the Turkish government by barring Turkish politicians from campaigning in the country.

The Turkish organization has come under criticism from both Austrian officials and the public after images surfaced in the Austrian media of boys dressed in camouflage uniforms re-enacting the Battle of Gallipoli as Turkish soldiers at one of the 60 mosques run by A.T.I.B.

German news outlets found pictures indicating that similar re-enactments were being carried out in Germany, adding fuel to complaints against the sister branch of the organization based in Germany. Last year, several imams in mosques run by the organization were investigated over accusations that they were spying on critics of the Turkish government living in Germany.

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