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Blocher to discuss terrorism with the US

Blocher is to spend two days in the US

(Keystone)

Swiss Justice Minister Christoph Blocher is due to travel to the United States next week for talks on the fight against terrorism.

The two-day trip, which starts on Tuesday, includes meetings with his US counterpart, Alberto Gonzales, as well as the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller.

"The main topics of the discussions are Swiss-American cooperation in the fight against terrorism, cooperation between prosecution authorities and mutual assistance in criminal matters," justice ministry spokeswoman Claudia Imhasly told swissinfo.

Blocher will be accompanied by Heinrich Koller, director of the justice ministry, and Jean-Luc Vez, head of the Federal Police Office.

The ministry said that the talks would focus on general topics, rather than concrete issues.

Imhasly said that there was already strong cooperation between the two countries on ways to combat terrorism.

"Following Federal Councillor Christoph Blocher’s meeting with Attorney General John Ashcroft in January last year, Mr Blocher looks forward to continuing this rewarding and productive working relationship with US authorities," said Imhasly.

At the meeting in Bern, Ashcroft thanked Switzerland for its help after the terrorist attacks in the US in September 2001.

During their talks, Blocher raised the issue of tougher US security legislation – introduced after September 11 – and its consequences for Swiss business travellers and citizens.

Border security

The US authorities introduced stricter border checks for visa-waiver countries, including Switzerland, in October last year.

From October this year, Swiss nationals will need a biometric passport to travel to the US without a visa.

In June last year Federal Prosecutor Valentin Roschacher revealed that Switzerland was probably used as a base for the financing and logistical support of the extremist group, al-Qaeda.

The justice ministry has confirmed that the Federal Prosecutor’s Office is preparing to bring legal proceedings in two cases of terrorism financing.

One concerns the bankrupt finance company Al-Taqwa Management, which was based in Italian-speaking Ticino, while the other involves a Saudi Arabian citizen with links to Switzerland and the US.

Both cases involve allegations of links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. An "Operative Working Arrangement" is now in place between Switzerland and the US to help ease the exchange of information between the two countries.

But the accord has come in for criticism in Switzerland, particularly since the government did not get parliament’s approval before adopting the arrangement.

Roschacher – who is not accompanying Blocher – said last summer that the accord would be scrapped as soon as the terrorism investigations were over.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

In brief

Swiss investigators have also uncovered evidence of prepaid mobile phones bought in Switzerland being used by members of the al-Qaeda network in the planning of the US attacks.

As of August 1 last year, purchasers of prepaid mobile phones in Switzerland have to provide proof of identity.

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