Austrian far-right activist probed over ties to NZ suspect

Mourners attend funeral prayers for Syed Areeb Ahmed, a victim of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque shootings, in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, March 25, 2019. Ahmed was among nine Pakistanis who were killed on March 15 when a white supremacist shot people inside two mosques. Ahmed was an only son who had immigrated to New Zealand for work, according to his uncle Muhammad Muzaffar Khan. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)
File--- In this picture taken Nov.5, 2016 Martin Sellner, leader of the right-wing populist Identitarian movement of Austria is seen giving an interview in Berlin, Germany. (Paul Zinken/dpa via AP)
Mourners carry the casket of Syed Areeb Ahmed, a victim of the Christchurch mosque shootings, during his funeral in Karachi, Pakistan, Monday, March 25, 2019. Ahmed was among nine Pakistanis who were killed on March 15 when a white supremacist shot people inside two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. (AP Photo/Fareed Khan)

BERLIN — Austria's leader called Tuesday for authorities to "ruthlessly" investigate possible ties between an Austrian nationalist group and the alleged Christchurch mosque gunman, after it emerged that a prominent far-right activist in the Alpine nation had received a donation in the suspected shooter's name.

Martin Sellner, head of the Identitarian Movement of Austria, said on social media that police searched his apartment Monday and seized electronic devices after he received a "disproportionately high donation" from a person named Tarrant — the same surname as the suspected Christchurch shooter.

Christoph Poelzl, spokesman for Austria's Interior Ministry, confirmed Tuesday that the country's BVT domestic intelligence agency searched Sellner's apartment in Vienna at the request of prosecutors in the city of Graz.

"Any connection between the Christchurch attacker and members of the Identitarians in Austria needs to be comprehensively and ruthlessly investigated," Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted, adding that he had spoken to Justice Minister Josef Moser about the issue.

"It is important that the independent justice system can use all necessary means and resources to conduct its investigation together with the security services and expose these networks," he said. "There needs to be total clarity about all extremist activities."

Hansjoerg Bacher, a spokesman for Graz prosecutors, said prosecutors had stumbled across the donation as part of an existing probe against Sellner into possible financial offenses.

"The purpose of the investigation is to examine links between Mr. Sellner and the Christchurch attacker," Bacher told The Associated Press.

He declined to confirm when the donation took place, but said it was much higher than other contributions made to Sellner or his Identitarian Movement.

"Most donations were in the area of two-to-three figures, whereas this donation was in the low four-figure area," Bacher told The AP. "This made it stand out, and the events in New Zealand put a face to this donation."

He said the investigation against Sellner is based on Austrian anti-terror laws.

"We need to determine whether there is a connection and if so, whether it's criminally significant," said Bacher.

Sellner denied having anything to do with the March 15 massacre, in which 50 Muslims were killed in the southern New Zealand city.

Australian Brenton Tarrant was arrested within an hour of the mosque shootings and has been charged with murder.

"I had nothing to do with the attack," Sellner said in a video statement posted on YouTube, adding that he would donate the money to a charitable organization.

He suggested the reason for the donation might have been to provoke repressive measures against "patriots."

Austrian authorities said last week that the Christchurch shooter visited Austria, but declined to confirm when or whether he met with any far-right activists during his trip.

Some of Tarrant's anti-Muslim views are echoed by the Identitarian Movement. The group is close to sections of the nationalist Freedom Party, which is part of the country's coalition government.

Austria's vice chancellor, who leads the Freedom Party, echoed Kurz's call for a comprehensive probe into possible Austrian ties to the Christchurch gunman.

"All suspicions of extremism are acted upon, whether they are right, left or religiously motivated," Heinz-Christian Strache said on Twitter. "Fanaticism has no place in our society."

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