After four people were killed and 23 injured in a terrorist attack in Vienna on 2 November Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurtz urged fellow European leaders to form a common front against what he called “political Islam”.
“I expect an end to the misconceived tolerance and for all the nations of Europe to finally realise how dangerous the ideology of political Islam is for our freedom and the European way of life,” Kurtz told the German newspaper Die Welt. “The EU must also focus much more strongly on the problem of political Islam in Europe in the future.”
The violence in Vienna followed two terrorist attacks in France. A teacher was beheaded near Paris on 16 October, and less than two weeks later, on 29 October, a knife attack on a church in Nice left three people dead.
The wave of terrorist attacks carried out by Islamist militants in Paris, Nice, and Vienna over the past few weeks has forced many European governments to crack down on activities related to the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements. In Austria, police raided several properties linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, searched dozens of homes and questioned people with ties to the two groups.
The Deutsche Welle (DW) website reported last week that prosecutors in Austria’s Styria region were investigating several associations and over 70 individuals suspected of “belonging to or supporting the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas organisations”.
Prosecutors said investigations of Muslim Brotherhood-linked activities included offences such as forming a terrorist organisation, financing terrorism and money laundering. Officials said the investigation “has no connection” to the 2 November terrorist attack in Vienna but is part of an ongoing, year-long terrorism probe.
DW quoted prosecutors saying that the results of the probe had revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood is a globally active, radical Islamist anti-Semitic organisation. They also accused the Muslim Brotherhood of trying to “set up an Islamic state on the basis of Islamic law in all countries on earth” and of maintaining ties to “terrorist organisations” such as Hamas.
Moves against the Brotherhood in Austria were welcomed by Egypt and other Arab states.
Abdallah Al-Naggar, a member of the Cairo-based Islamic Research Centre, told Sada Al-Balad TV channel on 15 November that the new rhetoric in Austria shows that calls in Europe to designate political Islam movements, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, as terrorist organisations, are getting louder.
In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed and designated a terrorist organisation in 2013. Other countries, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Russia, have followed Egypt’s lead.
On 10 November, Saudi Arabia’s Council of Islamic Clerics issued a statement saying the “Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation that does not represent the true course of Islam.”
“It is a group guided by partisan objectives that violate the values of Islam, takes religion as a cover and spreads sedition, violence and terrorism wherever it goes.”
Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said the police operation against Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas-linked activities sought to combat “the breeding ground of terrorism” and “we are acting against these criminal, extremist and inhuman organisations with all our strength.”
While it is becoming clear that the Muslim Brotherhood has long seen Austria as a safe haven, security expert Khaled Okasha warns the group can be found across Europe, with most of its activities focused on the UK and Germany.
“Backed by generous funding from Qatar and Turkey, the Brotherhood maintains a presence in most European capitals and controls a large number of mosques that spread the group’s distorted teachings on Islam,” said Okasha.
Okasha said in a TV interview that he expects the Muslim Brotherhood to soon be listed as a terrorist organisation in France.
“France and Austria have both suffered a great deal from the extremist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian officials have repeatedly warned their European counterparts of the danger of allowing the Muslim Brotherhood a free rein in their societies.”
Following the terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice, French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to crack down on “radical Islam”.
Shortly thereafter the Cheikh Yassine Collective, a pro-Palestinian organisation with links to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood said to be implicated in the attack against the school teacher, was closed down. France has said further measures against radical Islam will be enacted in the next few weeks.
Okasha hopes that Germany, England and France in particular will change their positions on the Muslim Brotherhood in response to the latest spate of terrorist attacks.
“London has become a major hub for Brotherhood activities in recent years, and the group’s international headquarters is based there. Tellingly, Ibrahim Mounir, the newly-appointed supreme guide of the group, is living in London,” said Okasha.
“What happened in Austria and France should ring alarm bells in America where the Muslim Brotherhood uses organisations like the Council of American-Islamic Relations as a front for spreading its influence in the United States, and always depends on the Democratic Party for support,” warned Okasha.
On 9 November President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi discussed boosting security and intelligence cooperation between Egypt and the United Kingdom in a meeting in Cairo with Richard Moore, the head of the UK’s secret intelligence Service MI6. A presidency statement said the two discussed the spread of terrorism and extremism regionally and internationally.
Egyptian politicians have long complained of the free movement of the Muslim Brotherhood on British soil and the group’s using London-based TV channels to target Egypt.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly