A young Muslim man burst into Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna on Saturday morning shouting “Islamic slogans” until he was subdued and arrested by police.
Vienna City Police Command reported that the 25-year-old Afghan man made a “confused impression” on the police but that no weapons or questionable objects were found on his person or in the church building during a search. Nonetheless, the State Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Combating Terrorism was alerted and is carrying out an investigation of the case.
Saturday’s incident followed a disturbance on Thursday at Vienna’s St. Anthony of Padua church, when a mob of nearly 50 young Turkish Muslims entered the church and began kicking the pews and confessionals.
St. Anthony’s is located in Vienna’s Favoriten district, a neighbourhood that is home to one of the Vienna’s largest Muslim populations. The pastor of the church who was present at the time notified the police, who eventually arrived after the young people had already dispersed.
“We oppose any form of extremism with the utmost severity, there is no tolerance,” declared Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer after the event. “We in Austria will never let our right to exercise our religion be destroyed and we will protect the Christian community with all our might.”
Due to recent events, authorities have instructed all police to monitor public areas more intensively, especially in the Favoriten district.
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Tarafa Baghajati, chairman of the Muslim Austrian Initiative, expressed his complete opposition to Thursday’s disturbance.
“Nothing justifies such irresponsible behaviour. From an Islamic point of view, both places of worship and the neighbourhood are absolutely protected,” Mr Baghajati said. “Both Islamic commandments were grossly violated by these young people.”
For its part, the Islamic Faith Society (IGGÖ) also came out in solidarity with the Church of St. Anthony of Padua, sending a group of representatives of the IGGÖ and the Young Muslim Community to gather in front of the church for a vigil Saturday afternoon.
“We condemn this disruptive action in the strongest possible way,” the IGGÖ said in a statement. “Freedom of religion is a valuable asset in our society and attacks on places of worship regardless of religious community are absolutely unacceptable and in no way compatible with Islamic principles.”
The incidents have served to underscore heightened tensions over Islamist attacks in France as well as the French president’s promise to protect free speech, including the right to caricature the Prophet Muhammad, a stance the Turkish president has publicly assailed.