The justice ministry has blocked a decision by the Federal Criminal Court to set free an Iraqi citizen found guilty of supporting the Islamic State group in a recent Swiss terrorism trial.
The Federal Police Office on Tuesday ordered the 32-year-old man be detained pending his deportation, according to public radio and television SRF.
The announcement came just hours after the court in Bellinzona decided that the man could be released from prison by July 21, having served two-thirds of the 3.5-year sentence it handed down on March 18. He has been held since his arrest in March 2014.
In March, he and two other Iraqis were found guilty of supporting a criminal organisation. They had been on trial for planning a terror attack in Switzerland as part of the Islamic State group.
This was the first time a guilty verdict had been pronounced in Switzerland related to Islamic State activities. The three individuals, aged between 29 and 34 years old, were all sentenced to prison terms, the longest of which was four years and eight months.
The judges ruled that the three men had been trying to bring information, materials and personnel into Switzerland necessary to carry out an attack. An attack plan had been "clearly initialised" according to the federal prosecutor. However, the court ruled that this did not necessarily constitute a terrorist activity.
In Tuesday’s announcement, the Bellinzona court said it did not fear any new criminal activity by the Iraqi prisoner. In his request for release, the man had stressed his close ties to Switzerland, where his family lives, including his brother and sisters. He said he had managed to find work, and the Bern regional prison confirmed his good behaviour while in detention.
“Baking bread” and “watermelons”
Swiss authorities arrested three of the individuals in northeastern Switzerland in April 2014, and detained the fourth in July 2015. They were charged by the Swiss Attorney General’s office, which had received a tip-off from foreign intelligence sources that they were planning an attack on Swiss soil.
The 69-page indictment said the accused formed contacts with ISIS leaders outside Switzerland, specifically in Syria. It documented 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 stated.
The court ruled that those messages could be considered a call to arms in support of the Islamic State, even if the words themselves were not of a violent nature.
The alleged ringleader of the group 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, near Schaffhausen, attending a paraplegic centre in Nottwil for treatment on his wounds.
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. He was sentenced to a prison term of four years and eight months.
The other two individuals are believed to have worked as Islamic State traffickers, helping recruit smugglers, plan routes and raise money for the organisation. One of them stood accused of having uploaded violent videos to Facebook of people being killed and maimed and glorifying those actions on the social media platform. The third was found guilty of having tried to establish an Islamic State cell in Switzerland.
Another suspect was an imam based in Hergiswil, canton Nidwalden, who is also said to have preached in St Gallen. He was accused of travelling to Syria to deliver radio equipment to IS contacts. However, he was acquitted of all charges in March.
The other two men who were found guilty will not be freed before 2017.