Turkey says mosque closures in Austria may lead to a 'war between the cross and the crescent'

Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERSFILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, February 21, 2018.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has announced that the government will be shutting down a hardline Turkish nationalist mosque in Vienna and six other mosques being operated by the Arab Religious Community.

As part of the crackdown, the Austrian government is also expelling up to 60 imams with alleged links to the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB), an organization affiliated with Turkey's religious affairs agency Diyanet.

The move has been denounced by Turkey as a "reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that the Austrian government's decision could lead to a war between Christians and Muslims.

"These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent," the Turkish president said in a speech in Istanbul, as reported by the Daily Mail.

"They say they're going to kick our religious men out of Austria. Do you think we will not react if you do such a thing?' That means we're going to have to do something," he went on to say.

The crackdown on mosques and imams follows the enactment of a 2015 law that prohibits religious groups from receiving foreign funding and requires Islamic societies to have a "positive fundamental view towards [Austria's] state and society."

"Parallel societies, political Islam and radicalisation have no place in our country," Kurz said during a news conference, as reported by Daily Mail.

Interior Minister Herbert Kickl stated that around 60 imams will be affected by the crackdown but the number could increase to 150 when relatives are taken into account.

He said that 40 of the imams have already applied to extend their residence in Austria and some have already been referred to immigration authorities for deportation.

Kickl said the imams have been suspected of violating the law that bans foreign funding of those holding religious office.

The Daily Mail reports that the decision to shut down mosques follows an investigation conducted by Austria's religious affairs authority on a Turkish-backed mosque that appeared in an image that showing children re-enacting the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

The photos, which emerged in April, showed the children in camouflage uniforms, saluting and waving Turkish flags. In another image, the children were seen playing dead, with their bodies lined up and draped in the flags, according to the Daily Mail.

ATIB, which runs the mosque, denounced the images and said that the involvement of the children was "highly regrettable." The organization said that the event had been "called off before it had even ended."