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Anti-extremism Swiss police make series of terror arrests

The prevention of violent extremism is high on the Swiss political agenda.


Three people were arrested in an anti-terror swoop in the canton of Vaud last weekend. Two of them have since been released. They are suspected of having links to a “criminal group”, said the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).

The story, first reported in newspaper 20 minutesexternal link on Monday, was straight from an “American movie”, according to one onlooker.

In a busy parking lot in the town of Aubonne, armed and balaclava-wearing police descended upon a parked car in which a man and woman were sitting, and blindfolded the man before arresting both and taking them away.

The OAG later confirmed that, in total, three people were taken for questioning between June 23 and 24, which suggests that another suspect was arrested the day before, although the details about this are unknown.

It was not confirmed which organisation the pair are suspecting of having links to, but they were said by the OAG to have breached the law prohibiting the terror groups al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.  

On Friday it was confirmed by the OAG that two of the three had been released because the conditions for holding them were no longer applicable, but that proceedings against them were continuing. A presumption of innocence applied in all three cases, the OAG said.

Too early to talk of cells

Speaking on Swiss public radio, RTSexternal link, on Tuesday morning, Eric Cottier, the canton Vaud attorney general, said analysis by the OAG would determine whether there was a terrorist cell or network in the Vaud region.

“To come to any conclusions right now would be premature,” he said.

Referring to the nature of the police action, and whether it pointed to an imminent threat, he said that “the idea of imminence is relative: let’s just say that what was found, in relation to these people, shows that they could quickly jump into action.”

Carlo Sommaruga, a parliamentarian from Geneva speaking on the same radio station, agreed that it was too soon to talk of a larger network.

But he said, “around 70 young people have left Switzerland to fight jihad, and there are certainly a number of people in Switzerland, individually or in cooperation, who are linked to these terrorist groups”.

Flurry of activity

The arrests come at a time of heightened awareness and debate around the detection and prevention of terrorism in Switzerland, which enjoys a reputation as one of Europe’s safest countries.

Last week, the government announced plans to update existing anti-terror legislation to fall in line with its European counterparts and to strengthen efforts at combatting the recruitment and training of terrorists, as well as so-called jihadi tourism.

Just two days prior to this, a Tunisian man was arrested close to Geneva, also on suspicion of breaking the Swiss law that bans terror groups and any activity supporting them. The Tribune de Genève newspaper claimed that the man was suspected of being a key figure in the recruitment of jihadists on Swiss soil.

OAG spokesman André Marty said there was no connection between the arrests.

"The arrests of the three individuals is a completely isolated incident. There is no connection with the arrest one week ago in Meyrin (near Geneva), there is no link," he declared.

"Our colleagues in canton Vaud have collected proof that an imminent danger could not be excluded. This now has to be checked. The investigation is underway to understand their intentions."

According to the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS), 81 people motivated by extremist ideologies travelled from Switzerland to conflict areas including Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan between September 2001, and February 2017.

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