Can Europe Make It?: Opinion

Islamophobic raids hid Austrian government failure to prevent a terror attack

While the Austrian government busied itself with its Islamophobic agenda, its intelligence services missed vital intelligence about a real terrorist attack

Nehal Abdalla
Nehal Abdalla
24 November 2021, 12.00am
Armed police patrol near the site of a gun attack in Vienna, Austria, 4 November 2020
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REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo. All rights reserved

On 2 November 2020, an ISIS sympathiser launched a mass shooting in Austria’s capital, Vienna. Four people were killed and 23 injured. The attacker was shot dead by the police at the scene.

The following week, on 9 November, the government executed Operation Luxor, the largest group of police raids in Austria since World War II. The operation involved around 930 individuals, including police officers, special unit agents and constitutional protection officials.

At 5am, the police violently broke into around 70 Muslim homes, awakening the inhabitants to a real-life nightmare. The sight of guns and militarised police personnel, the sound of shattering glass and smashing doors, and the unbridled aggression, left families and children traumatised.

During a press conference on the same day, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer framed Operation Luxor as a legitimate and necessary response to the 2 November attack, referring to it as a “successful measure” taken against so-called “political Islam”.

The press conference was a masterclass in propaganda: it quickly emerged that Operation Luxor was entirely unrelated to the Vienna attacks. No one targeted by the raids has been so much as charged with an offence, let alone convicted. Despite the seizure of cash, personal belongings and assets, and the freezing of bank accounts, not a single arrest was made, and many cases have been dropped in recent weeks. To this day, no evidence has been presented justifying the highly aggressive and traumatising raids. Among those targeted were well-known and respected Muslim, Austrian figures – activists, academics and other individuals who had previously been vocal about state-sponsored Islamophobia. Some have since spoken out on their experiences, and the problematic and racist nature of the raids.

The raids themselves have since been declared unlawful by the Austrian courts. A report by CAGE and ACT-P, published on the one-year anniversary of Operation Luxor, documents the deeply troubling series of events and how they reflected the policies of the Austrian government.

Empty words after the 2 November attack

The conciliatory words of the then Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, in the wake of the 2 November attack, promising solidarity and cohesion, were quickly revealed to be empty. The 9 November raids confirmed suspicions, especially within the Muslim community, over Kurz and his government’s stance towards Austria’s Muslim citizens, in light of a track record of Islamophobic politics.

The aggressive measures taken by the government masked its own deep failings and incompetence in preventing the attacks of 2 November.

In fact, during the year leading up to the attack, the Austrian Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BVT) had concentrated major resources to prepare for Operation Luxor. This fatal misallocation was responsible for key failures on behalf of the government that allowed the attacker to successfully carry out his mass shooting, as pointed out by Social Democratic Party´s security spokesman Reinhold Einwallner.

The Austrian government was too busy preparing for its crackdown on Muslim citizens in Operation Luxor to attend to the matter of an actual violent attack

The commission of inquiry into the events published its final report in February 2021, providing evidence of Nehammer’s misuse of high-value intelligence concerning crucial activities of the attacker that were pivotal to the perpetration of his attack.

Since then, the Austrian state has faced several lawsuits over the administration’s errors regarding the Vienna attack, with a family member of one of the victims filing a lawsuit based on the fact that the attack was preventable.

What purpose was Operation Luxor meant to serve?

To put it simply, the Austrian government was too busy preparing for its crackdown on Muslim citizens in Operation Luxor to attend to the matter of an actual violent attack. The question is: what purpose was the operation actually meant to serve?

Keeping the timing of Operation Luxor and Nehammer´s rhetoric during the above-mentioned press conference in mind, it seems clear that the timing of the raids was orchestrated to save face, as evidence of dysfunctional security management of the 2 November attack began to emerge.

Operation Luxor was meant to signal to the Austrian public that action was being taken following the attack, while at the same time criminalising Muslim activism and political action in an effort to silence Muslim opposition in Austria.

Furthermore, the report published by Cage and ACT-P highlights the similarity in tactics and language used by the Austrian government and the Egyptian regime. This could possibly indicate joint ‘counter-terrorism’ efforts between what is, on the one hand, a military dictatorship and, on the other hand, supposedly a Western democracy.

Time and time again, the governing Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) has proven that what the Austrian mainstream media is referring to as “failures” and “incompetencies” are actually the consequences of a well-calculated racist political strategy.

Enabled by society’s failure to identify racism, the current government has not missed a chance to profit from racist narratives, to disseminate Islamophobic bullying campaigns and policies, while at the same time failing to address any actual threats or offer sound security management, leading to the events of 2 November.

Operation Luxor targeted the best of us

When errors occur, there is usually a public yearning for accountability. Yet this kind of justice has never been granted in cases of state-sponsored Islamophobia in Austria. It is quite obvious that Operation Luxor was intended as a deliberate targeting and violent silencing of critical and active members of the Muslim community. It targeted the best of us: exemplary Muslim women and men who have dedicated their lives to increasing interreligious dialogue and bringing about peace, to strengthening the Muslim community, and to identifying and fighting the racist structures eating away at our democracy in Austria.

It targeted family, friends, and people deserving of our utmost respect and solidarity; role models for all of us.

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