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Austria appoints Jordanian as security chief

Appointment follows criticism of old security organisation after failure to prevent attack by Islamic State sympathiser in November
Omar Haijawi-Pirchner, the son of a Jordanian doctor and an Austrian nurse, was appointed as Austria's head of the Directorate of State Security and Intelligence (Facebook)

An Austrian-Jordanian has been appointed to head of the country's new security agency, following harsh criticism of the previous institution's failure to prevent an attack by an alleged Islamic State (IS) sympathiser.

The appointment of Omar Haijawi-Pirchner as head of the Directorate of State Security and Intelligence (DSN) follows a pledge by Austria's minister of interior, Karl Nehammer, to replace the former counterterrorism agency, the BVT, with a “genuinely new” security organisation.

The BVT was harshly criticised after it failed to thwart a deadly attack in Vienna in November last year by a 20-year-old man from North Macedonia who had sympathies with IS.

Four people were killed during the violent attack and 23 were injured.

An investigation into the BVT's handling and reaction to the attack in November found loopholes in how it managed its database, which was not centralised and digitised, as well as chaotic communications between departments and rivalries within the organisation.

Nehammer vowed in February to restructure the BVT and to establish “a new, strong" security service that will act as a "wall of the republic" of Austria. 

'Never felt like a migrant'

Haijawi-Pirchner, the son of a Jordanian doctor and an Austrian nurse, was born in 1980 in Austria. He joined the Federal Police in 1999 after finishing school and became a brigadier. 

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He has said that his father and mother's wedding was a classic story of a doctor marrying a nurse, and he "never felt like a migrant".

In 2017, he faced a wave of discrimination on social media after he was appointed as the youngest head of the State Criminal Police Office in Lower Austria.

He said in an interview in 2020 that there was "this hostility, and no, it doesn't hurt [me]. I was born and raised in Austria, and I feel 100 percent a real Austrian." 

He said that his sense of justice drove him to join the police, preferring the thrill of a detective life over the university halls, though he completed a bachelor's degree in arts in 2011.

His appointment was celebrated in Jordanian media, which first reported it in Arabic.