Austria proposes indefinite detention for those posing terrorist threat

Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz holds a news conference after exchanges of gunfire in Vienna, Austria

Austria plans to make it possible for courts to imprison those convicted of terrorism-related offences for as long as they are deemed a threat, the government said on Wednesday.

The move follows a shooting rampage in Vienna last week in which a convicted jihadist who had been released early from prison killed four people and was shot dead by police.

The 20-year-old Islamic Terrorist gunman had been sentenced to 22 months for trying to join Islamic State in Syria. Austria has admitted to an intelligence failure in the run-up to the attack.

“If a mentally abnormal criminal can be locked up for life because he is a threat, then a terrorist who poses a threat can be locked up for life,” conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference on a package of planned anti-terrorism measures.

Kurz said that could become an option for courts when sentencing those convicted of jihadist crimes. For those who have already served their sentence, Austria would plan more systematic monitoring through electronic tagging.

Last week’s attack was the first such deadly militant assault in a generation in the small, neutral country.

Proportionally, Austria has a relatively large number of people who have joined Islamic State in Syria or Iraq or sought to. Kurz put the number of “foreign terrorist fighters” in Austria at more than 150, some of whom are in prison.

In addition, more than 100 have yet to return to Austria, he added.

It was not clear how such indefinite custody would be made compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. When asked if similar measures exist elsewhere, Kurz said some countries had reinforced their measures but did not name any.

Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler, who leads the junior coalition party, the Greens, said the new measures would apply to “all forms of terror”, including “terror by neo-Nazis”.

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