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Plotting attack? Swiss trial begins of alleged Islamic State terror cell

Armed police guard the Bellinzona court house


The trial of four Swiss-based Iraqis, accused of forming an Islamic State (IS) terrorist cell in Switzerland, gets underway on Monday in Bellinzona under conditions of tight security. The four deny allegations of being members of a criminal group, disseminating hate videos, smuggling, illegal residency and plotting a terrorist attack.

Three of the accused were arrested in northeastern Switzerland in 2015, while the fourth was detained by the Swiss authorities in July 2015. They were charged by the Swiss Attorney General’s office, which had received a tip-off from foreign intelligence sources.

The 69-page indictment says the accused formed contacts with ISIS leaders outside Switzerland, specifically in Syria. It documents facebook messages, which allegedly contain coded messages. “Baking bread” meant making explosive devices, “watermelons” referred to explosives and weapons while “bridegrooms” stood for suicide bombers, the prosecution states.

The alleged ringleader, Osamah M, is thought to have joined IS in 2004 and spent time in Syria before being granted asylum in Switzerland in 2012, posing as a civilian victim of the Syrian conflict. The wheelchair-bound man then lived in Beringen, canton Schaffhausen, attending a paraplegic centre in Nottwil for treatment on his wounds.

"Wheelchair bomber"

He has been dubbed the “Wheelchair Bomber” by the Swiss media and is said to have helped arrange asylum in Switzerland for two other IS members who were stationed in Damascus.

Another suspect, Abdulrahman O., was an imam based in Hergiswil, canton Nidwalden, who is also said to have preached in St Gallen. He is accused of travelling to Syria to deliver radio equipment to IS contacts.

The week long trial at the Federal Criminal Court in Canton Ticino is taking place under tight security conditions, with parts of Bellinzona closed off to the public. The verdict is expected on March 18.

In a press statement from last October, the Swiss Attorney General’s office said the case affected various countries. Cooperation has been particularly strong between Swiss and United States law enforcement agencies, the statement read.

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