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Austria wants jail for terrorist camp trainees

New amendment calls for jail time for "preachers of hate"

Austria's government approved Tuesday an anti-terrorism amendment that calls for jail terms for "preachers of hate" and people who attend a foreign terrorist training camp.

According to the new draft, which was put forward by Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner and must still be approved by parliament, a person attending a terrorist camp abroad could face up to five years in prison, while an instructor could be sentenced to up to 10 years.

The controversial amendment also targets radical preachers, calling for up to two years in jail for those found guilty of condoning or inciting terrorist acts.

The national security and counter-terrorism bureau (BVT) noted Tuesday that there was "a growing trend" of Austrians attending foreign terror camps.

The figure was "not seriously high... but one (terrorist) is enough," said BVT director Peter Gridling.

This year alone, the BVT had recorded more trips to terror camps than between 2005 and 2009, he noted.

Trainees were usually young men, mainly Muslims who had become radicalized, including immigrants but also young Austrian-born Muslims or Austrians who had converted to Islam, Gridling said.

They were recruited in small circles, for example in the backrooms of mosques where they were handpicked for training camps in conflict zones like Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan but also more recently in Somalia and Yemen. Many of these camps were organized by al-Qaeda, he noted.

After weapons training, strict drilling and indoctrination, many remained in the region. Whether those who returned to Austria were planning attacks was hard to tell, said Gridling.

But any trainee was "a potential risk", he said.

Under the current law, trainees or instructors at such camps are not prosecuted.

The anti-terrorism amendment was expected to come into force on Aug. 1, if approved by parliament.