A decision by Austria to close seven mosques and expel as many as 60 imams has been branded by a senior Turkish government spokesman as a populist attempt to standardise racism and Islamophobia.

The plaque of the
The plaque of the "Nizam-i Alem" mosque, one of seven that the Austrian government announced they would shut down, Vienna, Austria, June 8, 2018. (AFP)

Turkey's presidential spokesman on Friday blasted as "anti-Islam" and "racist" Austria's decision to expel up to 60 Turkish-funded imams and shut seven mosques.

TRT World's Assed Baig has the latest from Vienna.

"Austria's decision to close down seven mosques and deport imams with a lame excuse is a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country," Ibrahim Kalin said after Vienna announced the move in a crackdown on what it called "political Islam."

"It is an attempt to target Muslim communities for the sake of scoring cheap political points," Kalin said on Twitter.

"The Austrian government's ideological attitude does not fit with universal law norms, social harmony politics,  minority laws and the ethics of society. We certainly oppose normalising and standardising islamophobia and racism," he said.

Kalin's remarks came after Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the expulsion of the imams and shuttering of the mosques.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, seen here speaking during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, has ordered the closure of seven mosques in Austria.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, seen here speaking during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, has ordered the closure of seven mosques in Austria. (AP)

Kurz said the moves came after an investigation by the religious affairs authority into images which emerged in April of children in Turkish-backed mosques playing dead and re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

"Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalisation have no place in our country," Kurz said.

The photos, published by the Falter weekly, showed young boys in camouflage uniforms marching, saluting, waving Turkish flags and then playing dead. 

Their "corpses" were then lined up and draped with the flags.

The mosque in question was run by the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB) organisation, based in the German city of Cologne, and a branch of Turkey's religious affairs agency Diyanet.

ATIB itself condemned the photos at the time, calling the "highly regrettable" event and said that "called off before it had even ended."

The Wiener Zeitung reported that the mosque being closed was the New Danube Mosque.

According to the Associated Press a further six mosques run by a group called the Arab Religious Community were being closed and the organisation was being closed down.

The actions by the Austrian government were based on a 2015 law that, among other things, prevents religious communities from getting funding from abroad. 

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl said the residence permits of around 40 imams employed by ATIB, which oversees Turkish mosques in Austria, are being reviewed.

Kickl said that, in two cases, permits have already been revoked. Five more imams were denied first-time permits.

The conservative Kurz governs in a coalition with the anti-migration Freedom Party.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies