According to the APA news agency, the leader of the Islamic group is a 24-year-old ISIS supporter who is currently in the Hirtenberg prison in Austria.
He is said to have planned his outbreak and the subsequent series of attacks from the prison together with his 25 and 31-year-old accomplices. Sergo P. has been on trial twice already after he was convicted twice for terror-related activities, (Section 278b of the Criminal Code).
In October 2015, he was found guilty in Vienna after joining ISIS in the company of his mother in a wheelchair and his pregnant wife in Syria. The accused had been put under police control in Turkey and had been sent back to Austria. The young man was given two years of unconditional detention in his first trial. He was released prematurely after around 14 months, although it was announced that he had “converted” prisoners while he was behind bars.
Shortly after his release, the Chechen wanted to go back to Syria, failed again and was again sentenced to two years in Korneuburg in October 2017. The 24-year-old has now been transferred to a maximum security prison.
The population had to, as a police spokesman told the Austrian daily Die Presse on Monday evening, “not to worry” because the security measures for Vienna’s Christmas markets, which has been in place for months, will not be changed.
The risk situation has not changed, he said. According to the police, authorities and organisers in Vienna are in constant contact, police officers in uniform and in civilian clothes are on duty – similarly to what has been happening in Salzburg.
Ramazan Demir, Honorary Chairman of Islamic Prison Counseling in Austria, worked as a pastor for eight years and wrote the book “Among Extremists: A Prison Counselor looks into the soul of radical Muslims”.
He pointed out the enormous importance of prevention and deradicalization in prisons. Because almost all jihadists across Europe had been in prison and had been (further) radicalized there because they equate Islam with non-stop violence without and with a “wrong understanding of religion”.
It is all the more important to “support and educate these people” in cooperation with the state authorities and the Islamic community in Austria. To do this, more capacities are needed, after all, there are around 2 000 Muslim prisoners in Austria, Demir argued.
The young Chechen is a devout Muslim and calls himself Salafist. He is currently serving a three-year sentence in Hirtenberg Prison for membership in a terrorist organisation. From there he is said to have planned to break out – in order to carry out attacks on Christmas markets with other “fellow believers”.
Originally, several other men are said to have been arrested in the previous week – however, they were released.
According to the current state of investigation, which the authorities have not yet confirmed, the Islamists initially wanted to attack the Christmas market on Vienna’s Stephansplatz and on the Rathausplatz.
After that, assassinations were to take place in Salzburg, Germany, France and Luxembourg. The two older suspects were detained last week. They had been in regular contact with the leader by telephone, even though cell phones were banned in prisons.
According to the report, the authorities had been made aware of the group through an anonymous whistleblower. He warned above all against the individual who had already been arrested. Extensive investigations, observations and telephone surveillance have subsequently confirmed the suspicion.
Arrests followed because of the “imminent danger” that the jihadists presented, reported the APA citing sources in judicial circles.
The Wiener Neustadt Regional Court justified the detention of the men who had not yet been convicted by stating that there was a possibility that they would go into hiding and would pose the risk that they might commit the terror attack.
A falsified Romanian ID card issued in the inmate’s name was found in the course of a house search for the younger of the recently arrested.
According to the report, the Home Office and law enforcement agencies are following up the case as a so-called closed investigation. Formally, the investigation is centered on terrorist groups and the Ministry of the Interior reacted cautiously to media inquiries – initially also to the question of whether there were now increased security measures.
But Florian Kreiner, the 31-year-old’s lawyer, rejected the suspicions against his client to APA. “There’s nothing at all there,” he assured the media. His client had nothing to do with ISIS, he said.