Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter has said that Swiss citizens who went to Syria and Iraq to join the Islamic State should face trial there for security reasons.
Speaking on the sensitive issue of repatriating jihadists, Keller-Sutter told Swiss public radio RTS on Tuesday that she "would prefer that they be tried on the spot". She also highlighted the dangers of such repatriations for Switzerland.
"For me, the priority remains the safety of the Swiss population and the Swiss security forces. Should we put the Swiss people in danger to repatriate people who left of their own free will to fight in Syria and Iraq?” she said.
Keller-Sutter said that it is hard to gather evidence and conduct a normal trial in conflict zones and so it would be even more difficult for Swiss courts to try actions that happened so far away.
Women and children
When asked whether there are children among the Swiss concerned, Keller-Sutter replied: "Yes, we believe there are children, but the children are not necessarily ‘children’. There is a difference between small children and 15-year-old teenagers, amongst whom we already know there are extremists."
Karin Keller-Sutter also addressed the cases of women who travelled to conflict zones.
"Some extremist women encouraged the men. So it is not a simple issue, you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis," she said.
Terrorism experts believe that around 30,000 foreign fighters joined Islamic State after its declaration of a caliphate in 2014. The Economist magazine said this week that experts estimate that one-third of the total have been killed, one-third are still at large and one-third have returned to their home countries.
The majority of the foreign jihadist fighters came from former Soviet republics, followed by the Middle East, Western Europe and North Africa.
The United States recently urged other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State and who are now being held by Washington's local partners. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say they have detained more than 900 foreign fighters during their US-backed campaign against IS in northeastern Syria.
Swiss Federal Intelligence Service figures from November 2018external link show that 93 jihadist “travellers” have left Switzerland for conflict areas since 2001, of whom 78 have gone to Syria and Iraq. Of these, 27 have been confirmed killed and 16 have returned to Switzerland. The remainder are thought to be still in the region.