Insisting that he would "have to do something" after Vienna announced the mosque closures and possible deportations, the increasingly autocratic Turkish leader complained of an Austrian anti-Islamic bias, going so far as to threaten a religious war.
"These measures taken by the Austrian prime minister are, I fear, leading the world towards a war between the cross and the crescent," Erdogan declared in Istanbul, cited by France24.com.
Austria's Herbert Kickl, the Interior Minister of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) — a junior partner in the Vienna coalition government — noted that those imams being booted from the country were alleged to have links with the Turkish-Islamic Cultural Associations (ATIB), itself an offshoot of Diyanet, Ankara's religious agency.
Kickl observed that Vienna has reason to believe that ATIB — through its Ankaran bosses at Diyanet — is acting illegally by accepting foreign funding, cited by France24.
While a spokesperson for Erdogan described the Austrian move as "a reflection of the anti-Islam, racist and discriminatory populist wave in this country," many lawmakers in Vienna showed support.
Although some noted that the move could be used as a propaganda tool by Erdogan — who is facing a June 24 election — opposition parties in Vienna celebrated Friday's announcement, including center-left Social Democrats, who termed the potential expulsion of the imams and their families to be "the first sensible thing this government's done."
Erdogan responded angrily on Saturday, stating, "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 added.
The Turkish president, who faced a 2016 coup that many have suggested was faked by Ankara to bolster Erdogan's power base, did not go into detail as to what measures he would take.
Some 360,000 Austrian of Turkish descent reside in the central European nation, including an estimated 117,000 Turkish nationals.