Austria probes reports of death of teenage girl who went to Syria to join Islamist militants

VIENNA (AFP) - The Austrian authorities said on Tuesday that they were investigating reports that one of two teenage girls who travelled to Syria earlier this year to join Islamist militants has been killed.

"Rumours are circulating on the Internet and we are checking that information," Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundboeck told AFP, confirming local newspaper reports.

Austrian media reported in April that two girls of Bosnian origin - Sabina Selimovic, 15 and Samra Kesinovic, 16 - had left for Syria, telling their parents in a letter than they wanted to "fight for Islam" there.

Mr Grundboeck did not say on Tuesday which of the two teenagers was believed to have been killed. Missing persons' reports on Interpol's website say the two girls disappeared from Vienna on April 10. The reports show pictures of two pretty teenage girls.

Other photos found online and published in Austrian media purportedly show the two girls - who were active on social media and continued to post updates from Turkey and Syria - wearing a heavy headscarf and veil, or posing with masked armed men.

The Interior Ministry estimates 142 Austrians, including 12 women, have so far joined the ranks of jihadists in Syria.

Last week, the ministry said the police picked up two schoolgirls aged 14 and 15 in the southern city of Graz "with full suitcases... intending to go to Syria".

On Monday, conservative ministers in the government, including those in charge of justice and the interior, proposed a new package of measures to tackle the threat of extremism in Austria.

The package, which must still be agreed with the conservatives' Social Democrat coalition partners, include harsher penalties for incitement to hatred, a ban on symbols linked to terrorist groups, and revoking the Austrian citizenship of dual citizens who joined a foreign paramilitary organisation.