Overview: Austria was vigilant in its counterterrorism efforts, and U.S.-Austrian law enforcement cooperation was generally strong. Austria's Office for State Protection and Counterterrorism (BVT), the key counterterrorism agency within the Ministry of the Interior, reported that while no specific climate for fostering terrorist attacks existed within Austria, radicalization within violent Islamist extremist groups increased in 2015. The country's traditional, broad perception that Austria is safe from terrorist attacks was challenged by the number of foreign terrorist fighters from Austria headed to Syria and Iraq. The BVT charged or monitored those returning from Syria, as well as other potentially violent radicalized individuals. Continued concerns over data privacy protection, amplified by public debate about suspected U.S. NSA activities in Austria, slowed the implementation of counterterrorism agreements, in some cases.
Austria is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as well as the Counter-ISIL Working Groups on Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Stabilization. Throughout the year, the Ministries of Interior, Justice, and Foreign Affairs increased enforcement and engagement to counter incitement of terrorist acts motivated by extremism and combat the problem of foreign terrorist fighters, with law enforcement agencies focusing on intelligence gathering and investigations, and integration officials (within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) focusing on public outreach and engagement to prevent radicalization to violence.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: Austria has a broad legal framework to combat terrorism. Relevant statutes criminalize training in terrorist camps abroad. The Austrian Parliament passed additional counterterrorism legislation in December 2014 (effective January 1, 2015) to enhance existing counterterrorism laws. The counterterrorism legislation amended an existing law on the use of symbols and prohibits the use and distribution of symbols attributable to ISIL, al-Qa'ida, and any organization linked to these groups. Limited exemptions from these restrictions apply to media coverage, films, theater, and exhibits, provided that they do not serve to propagate the ideology of a terrorist organization.
As part of the same legislative package, an amendment to the border control law allowed border authorities to confirm that minors have received parental permission to leave Austria when there is a suspicion that the minors are traveling to participate in fighting activities abroad. Border authorities are empowered to deny departure to a minor and withhold his or her passport until an investigation is complete. An amendment to the Austrian citizenship law allowed authorities to withdraw citizenship from an Austrian who voluntarily and actively participates in fighting in an armed conflict if the individual holds a second citizenship.
In November, Austria's governing coalition parties agreed on a draft State Protection Law to provide enhanced legal tools against terrorist and extremist threats, espionage, cyber-attacks, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and to provide a firm legal basis for counterterrorism, counter-espionage, and related law enforcement actions by the BVT.
Austrian law enforcement and BVT officials routinely cooperated in investigative areas with U.S. law enforcement, from the informal sharing of preliminary investigative information to joint, multilateral investigative projects and enforcement operations. Border security forces make effective use of security measures, including biographic and biometric screening capabilities at airport ports of entry; Austria does not maintain ports of entry on its land borders as Austria is surrounded by Schengen zone member states; however, Austria has established facilities at several border crossings to manage and assist refugees. Border security forces also share information internally and with other EU countries. Border security officials at ports of entry have discretion when determining those documents and passengers subject to screening on arrival.
Austria has taken a whole-of-government approach to implement UN Security Council Resolutions 2170, 2178, and 2199, as well as the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF)'s Hague-Marrakech Good Practices for a More Effective Response to the Foreign Terrorist Fighters phenomenon. The BVT estimated the number of Austrians fighting in Syria and Iraq at approximately 260, predominantly of Chechen, Turkish, and Balkan origin. Forty are suspected to have been killed in Syria, while an estimated 70 have returned to Austria. Law enforcement officials have arrested violent extremists and suspected terrorists and prosecuted and sentenced ISIL sympathizers and would-be foreign terrorist fighters. Formal criminal investigations have been launched against 192 suspects, resulting in 50 criminal charges and 27 convictions.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Austria is an active member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and has developed comprehensive anti-money laundering/combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) legislation, including the enactment of a new Sanctions Act; undertaken reforms of the financial intelligence unit operational procedures and supervisory framework; and developed and published secondary legislation (regulations), thematic and sectorial guidelines, and explanatory notes. Austria's financial intelligence unit (the Bundeskriminalamt) is a member of the Egmont Group.
Financing of terrorism is criminalised in Article 278d of the Austrian Penal Code in line with Article 2 of the Terrorism Financing Convention and other international standards. Austria has successfully prosecuted terrorism financing cases, including sentencing a Chechen terrorism suspect to a four-year prison term in October on charges of terrorism financing and participation in a terrorist organization. The defendant was charged with collecting US $438,200 for the Caucasus Emirate.
Austria implements the collection of Know Your Customer-data for wire transfers through EU Regulation 1781/2006/EC. This EU Regulation does not include requirements regarding information on the beneficiary of a wire transfer, and there is no respective national law in place.
Austria and the United States implemented the 2014 bilateral agreement on the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Under the agreement, Austrian banks require U.S. citizens resident in Austria to waive bank secrecy and allow the exchange of account information with the United States.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2016 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: Austria continued efforts to counter violent extremism, largely in response to the foreign terrorist fighter phenomenon. In addition, the Austrian government undertook or continued several other initiatives.
In cooperation with the Islamic Faith Community, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued an information campaign in mosques, Islamic organizations, and community centers that included education outreach to the majority population to differentiate between Islam and violent extremism. In an effort to improve integration in the newly arrived refugee population, the Integration Office within the Foreign Ministry has developed an educational program that focuses on German language acquisition and education on Austrian 'values' such as gender equality and democratic principles. The Austrian government maintains a counseling center and a de-radicalization hotline, aimed at friends and family members of potential violent extremists.
The Austrian government passed a new Law on Islam, updating the previous 1912 Law on Islam. This law updated the rights and responsibilities of Islamic communities and further formalized Islam's place within Austria. It contains provisions related to religious education, pastoral care in hospitals and prisons, recognizes Islamic holidays, and formalizes some Islamic traditions. The law also limits financing of mosques and imams from foreign sources, in an effort to constrain foreign influence.
International and Regional Cooperation: Austria is a member of various regional platforms, including the OSCE, the Salzburg Forum, and the Central European Initiative. Austria regularly leads law enforcement training programs with Salzburg Forum countries and the Balkan states. In March, Austria hosted a regional conference on foreign terrorist fighters, entitled "Tackling Jihadism Together: Shaping, Preventing, Reacting." The conference was attended by Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Italy, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia, and included discussions on enhanced border security training and increased cooperation among Europol, the EU border protection agency Frontex, and the western Balkan states.