In November 2020, the then Kurz-led government of ÖVP in Vienna set up Operation Luxor, apparently aiming to counter ‘Islamic terrorism’. In practice, it was a massive police raid that led to the search of 70 houses in several regions, all belonging to representatives of the Austrian Muslim minority. The raids, supervised directly by Interior Minister Karl Nehammer, mobilized 930 officials, including police officers and special unit agents (WEGA, Cobra, Air Police, observation units, explosives units, and sniffer dogs). Operation Luxor led to the arrest of 30 Muslim activists and academics based on extremely serious allegations, accused of “establishing a terrorist organization, financial support for terrorism, organized crime formation and money laundering”. In the following 12 months, nine of the raids have been judged unlawful and unjustified. According to the spokeswoman of the Graz Higher Regional Court, Elisabeth Dieber, the Court accepted the complaints filed by nine people, whose homes were searched by the police two years ago on the grounds that they provided financial support to terrorism and were associated with terrorist organizations. Furthermore, she added, the raids were not lawful due to the disproportionate amount of force deployed by the police. Even more significant, the court also considered the Prosecution statement concerning the membership to the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, and the Muslim Brotherhood of the people affected: “however, it was judged that the Brotherhood is not considered to be a terrorist organization in Austria”.
THE CAGE AND ACT-P REPORT
The international press and authoritative reports from civil society organizations accused the Austrian government of the time, of racism and far-right tendencies, and of trying to export the ‘Austria model’ as a European counter-terrorism strategy.
Two years later, in the Report “Operation Luxor: revealing the myths behind the biggest raids of the Austrian police in peacetime”, CAGE and ACT-P (Assisting Children Traumatized by Police) reveal how ‘Operation Luxor’ was a purely illegal and ideological targeting of Austrian Muslims by the Austrian government, driven by the interests of radical far-right groups close to the most extremist wing of the ÖVP. The work offers an exclusive insight into the impact of Operation Luxor and the political consequences of this operation. The Report discloses:
• The violations of Operation Luxor.
• It documents, for the first time, the testimonies of those, the victims, who were targeted in
Operation Luxor, capturing in detail the violations suffered.
• Details of how the Austrian government attempted to divert attention from a series of
corruption scandals by repressing Muslims.
THE ROLE OF RADICAL THINK-TANKS
The Report and the international press cast a sinister light on other aspects of Operation Luxor. They detail the dark nexus of Islamophobia that provides material assistance to the Austrian state in targeting Muslims. In addition, the report explains the role played by some radically inspired academics in the development of these illegal and abusive actions.
There are some anomalies in the arrest orders put in place by the judiciary under political pressure. Among these is the involvement, before launching the raids, of alleged “experts” who happened to have far-right views; namely, Lorenzo Vidino, “expert witness” of the State Prosecutor in the ideological reasoning, who was referenced 35 times in the Luxor arrest warrants. Vidino is widely-known for supporting “conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the United States” alongside disseminating dangerous theories in several countries – above all, Switzerland, and Italy. He is a fierce advocate of the far-right conspiracy Great Replacement, whereby, the supposed massive migration of mostly Muslims, will lead to the replacement of white people in the Global North. In 2005, the “expert” was interviewed by FrontPage magazine – the far-right publication of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-black activist David Horowitz – on the supposed “the end of Europe”. Vidino, without any scientific-technical basis, claimed “Europe as we knew it thirty years ago is long gone” due to the predominant presence of Muslims in Europe, clearly with the aim to polarise society in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim function. This was one of the experts consulted before launching Operation Luxor.
In addition to personal roles, from the analysis of the CAGE Report emerges an extreme right network composed of foundations and NGOs that have proven to penetrate the members of the states and influence their choices through tools of pseudo-cultural production towards forms of the radicalism of state.
Among these, the Report mentions the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD), an “anti-Muslim” think-tank based in Brussels, listed alongside the neoconservative think-tank Henry Jackson Society in Sarah Marusek’s study of transatlantic Islamophobic networks and funding. Another institution highlighted in the “Operation Luxor” Report is Austria’s Documentation Centre for Political Islam, developed to tackle “Political Islam”, as stated by the Integration Minister Susanne Raab, actually resulting in the establishment of a hostile environment for Muslims in the State – and has received EUR 0.5 million of public money in order to achieve its tasks.The Documentation Centre, for instance, introduced the Islam Map, openly mapping names and addresses of Islamic associations and organizations, mosques, and even shops in Austria – “enabling Islamophobic attacks by the Austrian far-right”, especially from Die Identitären group.
NO RESPECT FOR THE VICTIMS SO FAR
Despite the seriousness of the situation, to date, no consideration is given by Austrian public bodies to the victims of Operation Luxor. Journalists and NGOs urged the need for acknowledging the disproportionate use of force against those individuals treated as terrorists. A necessity that no one seems to want to answer.
Due to the excessive and unreasonable force deployed, physical and mental health issues are at stake, still unanswered. Especially concerning children: according to ACT-P, 62 children were involved and affected by the raids, and suffered psychological trauma and signs of PTSD. Together with the physical and psychological trauma, the victims had to bear the financial the consequence of Operation Luxor: the bank account of the suspects were frozen, money and assets were confiscated, and – as stated in the Report – in some cases, even children’s devices. Nura Al-Izzedin, Austrian researcher and organizer of ACT-P, said: “During the production of our Report, I conducted interviews with several survivors of Operation Luxor. Witness testimony was devastating. A year after the raids, people still find a difficult and deeply emotional moment to talk about their experiences. They have seen the dark side of Austria and see it as a reminiscence of a dictatorship.
Operation Luxor will forever be a stain on the history of Austria. The figures who have authorized and conducted this illegal operation of state-sponsored terror against innocent Muslims must be held accountable, as would any other citizen. This report is the first step in that process of responsibility.”