Austrian right-wing activists stage mock beheading of migrant advocates

VIENNA (Reuters) - A far-right Austrian group staged a mock beheading in Vienna's busiest shopping street of two of its members holding "refugees welcome" signs, while several police officers watched the event, saying they were protecting the right of assembly.

A video posted online this week, which said the display was by the anti-immigrant Identitaeren group, shows two masked men dressed in military fatigues pretending to behead a man and a woman.

At least four police officers and dozens of shoppers look on as jihadist chants in English fill the street and other masked men hold a flag sporting Islamic-style Arabic writing.

Austria's anti-Islam Freedom Party is ahead of the two ruling centrist parties, according to recent opinion polls, with just over 30 percent support after a boost from worries over immigration in the staunchly Catholic country.

"These people who shout 'refugees welcome'... are to blame for the danger we're exposed to in Europe now," says one man, addressing the crowd in the video.

"They speak of diversity, but what we see is foreign infiltration and Islamisation. We are the power that defends Austrian values and traditions. We will continue until our homeland is secure. Fortress Europe, shut the borders!"

A spokesman for Vienna's police said the event had been registered as a display of a "warlike action" and officers had stopped protesters trying to disrupt it. Representatives of the government agency for the protection of the constitution were also present, he said on Wednesday.

"Fundamentally there is freedom of assembly in Austria," he said, noting that is no legal basis to stop an assembly that consists of acting. The police had received several complaints about the event, he said.

When asked whether the event might be viewed as incitement to violence, a spokeswoman for Vienna prosecutors said if they receive a legal complaint from the police or members of the public, they would check whether there were grounds for action.

The Interior Ministry referred to the police when asked for comment and the Justice Ministry said it could not give a legal opinion on a specific case, adding in general one had to differentiate between criminal action and freedom of expression.

Islamic State militants have posted several videos since mid-2014 of its fighters beheading both civilians and soldiers.

Last month, Islamist militants in Paris killed 130 people.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Louise Ireland and Raissa Kasolowsky)