Austrian police arrest 14 suspected of Islamic State links

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Heavily armed SWAT teams supported by hundreds of other officers detained 14 people suspected of having ties to the Islamic State group in early-morning raids on Thursday, Austrian officials said.

An earlier statement from the public prosecutor’s office in Graz said there were eight arrests in twin operations there and in Vienna involving 800 police. But Justice Ministry official Christian Pilnacek later said the discrepancy was between the eight arrest warrants issued and the 14 people — 11 men and three women — actually detained.

Besides suspected links to the Islamic State group, Pilnacek said those detained were being investigated for attempts to try to set up a “parallel society … an attempt to create a kind of theocracy in Austria.”

Two of the 12 locations raided were Muslim social centers also used as mosques, Pilnacek said. The people arrested also are suspected of recruiting around 40 people to fight for Islamic extremist groups in the Mideast, he said.

The police sweep came less than a week after police in Vienna detained a 17-year-old they describe as belonging to “radical Salafist” circles who they said has confessed to experimenting with building a bomb.

But the prosecutor’s statement said Thursday’s operation had been planned for “a longer time,” suggesting no immediate link.

Pilnacek did not rule out some overlap to Mirsad Omerovic, a Serbian-born Islamic cleric sentenced last year in Graz to 20 years in prison for recruiting dozens of young men to fight for the Islamic State group. But he said he could not say there was a “direct connection” in the cases of all of those detained.

Most of them, including some with Austrian nationality, had Balkan antecedents, he said. State broadcaster ORF, citing the public prosecutor in Graz, said a Syrian national also was among the detained, who ranged in age from 21 to 49.

Konrad Kogler, Austria’s chief security official, told reporters that data from about 140 mobile phones and other electronic devices must be evaluated, meaning “weeks and months of work ahead of us.”

Austria has not experienced the attacks that have rocked other nations in Europe. But Interior Ministry figures show that approximately 300 people have left or tried to leave Austria to fight for radical groups in the Middle East since 2012.

Of these, 90 have returned while 50 are listed as having been killed in fighting.

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