Switzerland is still not a priority target for jihadists according to the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), although it cannot rule out that these organisations could recruit potential terrorists or find support for their activities.
In its annual report presented on Tuesday, the FIS said that while several hundred people have travelled from Europe to join jihad or terrorist movements over the past decade, less than 20 known journeys have been made from Switzerland.
One third have actually been confirmed as such trips, while the others could have also been related to language courses.
A number of these travellers are known by European security services to participate in acts of war or provide logistical support to jihad organisations. Others have also undergone training to commit acts of terror where they are or elsewhere, including in the West.
The FIS states that particular attention is given to persons returning who have attended a training camp in a jihad area or participated in combat, given the risk of them carrying out potential attacks in Europe or serving as role models for others.
For the intelligence service, the case of the Toulouse shootings in March last year is the perfect example of what can go wrong. However, there have been no confirmed cases of returnees to Switzerland so far.
According to the FIS, Somalia is the most frequent destination for Swiss jihad sympathisers, while there is only one confirmed case of travel to the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. That person – a former asylum seeker who evaded a prison sentence for supporting a criminal organisation – was reportedly killed in a drone attack last year.
The report warned that Syria is also becoming a destination for jihadists, mainly because getting there is simpler than getting to many other countries. A number of individuals could have travelled from Switzerland for this purpose, although they are still unconfirmed.
The FIS believes that unimpeded travel from Switzerland could damage the country’s reputation. It could also cause Switzerland to serve as a preparation and recruitment area for terrorists and increase the risk that Swiss residents or people with a direct relationship to Switzerland be involved in terrorist acts.
To counter these potential threats, the intelligence service says that it currently calls on the resources it is legally allowed to use to identify potentially dangerous networks and individuals.
At home, right- and left-wing extremists are not considered a major threat by the FIS, even if there is some potential for violence. Arrests and sentencing have helped reduce the activities of left-wing extremists, while the behaviour of their right-wing counterparts has become more clandestine, making it harder to assess.
Of bigger concern to the authorities are illegal intelligence operations still carried out in Switzerland, notably those using computer resources to access sensitive information. With information and communications facilities increasingly interconnected, cyberattacks are more likely.
Traditional spying is still taking place, however. Georgian intelligence, for example, conducted illegal surveillance of their country’s opposition in Zurich, and there are signs that other states are carrying out similar operations.
Foreign spies are also believed to be keeping a close eye on Switzerland’s research and financial sectors as well as the many international organisations that call the country home.
swissinfo.ch and agencies