Austrian political scientist and social anthropologist Thomas Schmidinger was interviewed by Yeni Özgür Politika. He analysed the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s (ISIS’s) organizational structure in Europe, its November 2020 attack in Vienna and its links with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He also analysed the nature of Turkish fascist groups’ attacks on Kurds and leftists.
Schmidinger, whose research focuses on Kurdistan, jihadism and the Middle East, stated that: “The Turkish state is using the Turkish diaspora in Europe to its benefit. It does this by supporting associations in Germany and Austria. Turkey has secret agents who work there”.
The Vienna attack
In the interview with Yeni Özgür Politika, Schmidinger stated: “We do not know if the attack in Vienna” – on 2 November 2020 – “was planned by one person and it is still unclear who brought the attacker there. Well, a second person may have helped him. The crucial questions we need to consider are: ‘With whose help did he get there and how? Did he go alone on the subway with a huge assault gun? Surely, this would have been noticable by cameras or people?’ What is more interesting is why the Austrian institutions took no action against him before the attack. The Austrian government failed significantly in this regard. The attacker had previously met with German and Swiss ISIS members, was convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization and had served in prison for a while but was not monitored. He travelled to Slovakia and tried to buy guns, but the Austrian police did nothing”. Emphasizing this lack of response from the Austrian police, Schmidinger pointed out that this “is as important as the terrorist attack itself”.
The Turkish state’s ‘diaspora policy’
Schmidinger also provided his assessment of racist Turkish organizations in Austria and the types of activities they are engaged with. He noted that: “One of the most important problems in this regard is that the Turkish state has a very aggressive ‘diaspora policy’. In various parts of Europe, there had already been circles believing in and advocating the far-right Grey Wolves ideology. This environment was transformed further after 2016, when the Gülenists fell from power. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) played a crucial role in that”.
Schmidinger described the attacks that took place in Vienna’s 10th district in the summer of 2020. A Turkish fascist group had attacked an event organized by Kurds and leftists in Austria and this caused a diplomatic crisis between Austria and Turkey. “Amongst this group who were attacking Kurds, leftist immigrants and women was a young person who was chanting: ‘How happy is he/she who says I am a Turk’. Alongside this person, another was chanting: ‘Allahu Akbar’. In this incident and attack, we witnessed joint Turkish racist nationalism and political Islamism at work'”.
The scholar was also present during the attacks that took place last June in Vienna: “We can say that the attack on the first day was spontaneous, perhaps, but this was not the case for subsequent attacks. One can understand that key people played a role in the attacks: it was obvious from their behaviour. I witnessed them constantly directing people by use of their phones. We can say with certainty that those attacks were coordinated by certain people. We cannot be sure whether these relatively senior people were Turkish agents, but it is absolutely possible that they were”, he added.
The relationship between ISIS and President Erdoğan
Schmidinger also provided his assessment regarding the relationship between ISIS and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: “It is clear that Erdoğan has links with ISIS. Just looking at the situation in Syria is enough to understand this. I was in Turkey in 2015, on the Akçakale border. On the opposite side, ISIS’s flag was still flying in Tal Abyad. The gate was open for two years and people were transferred to the ISIS side easily for 100 dollars”. The attitude of Erdoğan and the Turkish state towards the Kurdish autonomous region was very different, he noted: “For example, walls were built on the border and movement was controlled”.