Country Report on Terrorism 2013 - Chapter 2 - Austria

Overview: Austria was vigilant in its counterterrorism efforts and U.S.-Austrian law enforcement cooperation was generally strong. Concerns over data privacy protection – amplified by public debate about suspected NSA locations and activities in Austria – slowed the implementation of counterterrorism legislation and agreements. A broad and continuing public perception that Austria is safe from terrorist attacks reduced the impetus for counterterrorism efforts. The Agency for State Protection and Counterterrorism (BVT) reported that the threat from transnational violent extremism remained a concern, due in part to a small number of individuals who train in terrorist camps abroad. In addition to violent domestic extremist groups from the right and the left, the BVT monitored Austrian Islamist fighters returning from the civil war in Syria, radicalized individuals among second and third-generation immigrants, and religious converts.

Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Austria has a broad legal framework to combat terrorism. Relevant statutes criminalize training in terrorist camps abroad and allow telephone surveillance of individual suspects or small groups with the permission of an independent judge or ombudsman. In July, the Austrian Parliament passed the country’s new National Security Strategy, which emphasizes international cooperation to fight terrorism and cybercrime. The document also identified “successful integration of immigrants” as a prerequisite to prevent radicalization.

Prosecutors are consulted during investigations and work in coordination with counterparts in other components of law enforcement. Specialized law enforcement units have advanced investigations, crisis response, and border security capacity. There is a streamlined response to terrorism, with a single agency – the BVT – that has jurisdiction over investigations and post incident response. Law enforcement units display clear and effective command and control. Specialized law enforcement units are properly equipped and supported with relevant training, but staffing and funding shortages could hamper their effectiveness. Demarcated missions exist between law enforcement and military units that have a counterterrorism mission, although coordination could be improved.

Border security forces make effective use of security measures including biographic and biometric screening capabilities at ports of entry, terrorist screening watchlists, information-sharing internally and with other EU countries, and collection of advance passenger name records on commercial flights.

Austrian counterterrorism authorities filed criminal charges against 10 Austrian violent extremists who returned from fighting in Syria, but charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. They remained under observation at year’s end.

Austrian Islamist extremist Mohammed Mahmoud al-Shawqi, who burned his Austrian passport and announced his intention to fight in Syria in a video distributed over the “Global Islamic Media Front” network, was arrested in March trying to enter Syria from Turkey. Subsequent to his arrest, Mahmoud applied for asylum. He was in detention in Turkey awaiting extradition at year’s end.

Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Austria is a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and its Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is a member of the Egmont Group. The country’s banking and financial sector plays an important role within Europe. Legal amendments enacted over the past four years have sought to bring Austria's anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime into greater compliance with FATF standards. Those amendments have strengthened regulatory standards; given more power and responsibility to bank compliance officers, regulators, and Austria's FIU; eliminated bearer shares for domestic non-listed stock corporations; made asset seizure easier in AML/CFT cases; and provided for easier access to banking information.

Non-profit organizations are not required to file suspicious transaction reports as part of their license to operate or as a matter of law.

For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2014 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume 2, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes:

Regional and International Cooperation: Austria maintains security partnerships with several countries in the region and the Ministry of the Interior has counterterrorism liaison officers in a number of Austria’s embassies in southeastern Europe. Austria participates in various regional security platforms, including the OSCE, the Central European Initiative, and the Salzburg Forum.

Countering Radicalization to Violence and Violent Extremism: In an effort to prevent radicalization and the emergence of parallel societies, the Interior Ministry released an educational handbook on the basic tenets of Austrian society, including social, political, and humanitarian values (Wertefibel) to serve as a guide for immigrants. Austria reported initiating a similar project with the EU’s Agency for Fundamental Rights.