A woman and her young child, held in Syria for several months by her Swiss-Turkish husband, have been released. The man had travelled to Syria to join jihadist fighters.
The 22-year-old mother, a German national, is now sheltering with the German authorities in Turkey.
The man, a 21-year-old logistics specialist and Muslim convert from Arbon, canton Thurgau, let them go on Saturday night near the town of Reyhanli, on the Syrian-Turkish border.
He had been in Syria since July. His wife followed him there in October thinking the couple would be holidaying in Turkey. The child was born in March.
In March, Swiss public television’s Rundschau news programme aired an audio clip from the woman saying: “I want to go home – please help me.”
According to Rundschau and Germany’s Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper, the woman had been in the Idlib region of Syria, a conflict zone and was being held against her will by her husband.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation in November into the man’s alleged membership of a terrorist organisation.
He has sent messages home via social media. “I’ve come here to behead infidels. I am ready,” he wrote. “At some point we’ll be in Switzerland.” He added that he was engaged in jihad and had joined the al-Nusra Front, a branch of al-Qaeda operating in Syria and Lebanon and considered a terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council since 2013.
He comes from a large Turkish family and has had a Swiss passport since 1995. People who know him say that, before he was radicalised, he was well integrated. Members of his family say he had only wanted to take aid supplies to Syria but had then been brainwashed by radical preachers.
According to a report on Swiss public television, SRF, the couple met through a marriage broker but both of them were previously associated with the “Lies!” organisation, run by German Salafist preacher Ibrahim Abu-Nagie, who wants to distribute 25 million copies of the Koran.
By monitoring the woman’s Facebook entries, the authorities know she converted to Islam in 2013 as a result of the Koran distribution campaign.
The couple married in a Stuttgart mosque according to Islamic law and then in a Swiss registry office. They moved to a multi-family home in Arbon in 2013.
In 2014, an inter-departmental task force was set up, led by the Federal Office of Police, aimed at preventing jihadists travelling from Switzerland to conflict regions and terrorist attacks being committed in Switzerland.
According to the office, between 2001 and September 2014, 55 people left Switzerland to fight in jihadist conflicts, 35 of whom had left since May 2013. Of the total, 31 went to Iraq or Syria, while 24 went to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. The office is reportedly reviewing asylum applications to prevent potential terrorists from entering Switzerland.
Switzerland has been pushing for more coordinated ways of preventing and countering terrorism at all levels of the United Nations, as well as in the Global Counterterrorism Forum and the Council of Europe. As Chair of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in 2014, Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter made the fight against terrorism a priority.
On February 26, 2015, an FIS task force said Switzerland should do more to thwart jihadists, with possible new measures including a hotline number or even the grounding of outbound travellers.