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Army rifle used in Islamic centre shooting

The gunman was overpowered by other Muslims at the Islamic centre, not pictured

(Keystone)

A lone gunman has used his military assault rifle to fire on a dozen fellow worshippers at an Islamic centre in western Switzerland, seriously injuring one.

The latest in a series of incidents involving army weapons – which all enlisted Swiss men have to keep at home with ammunition – will add fuel to the heated political debate over reforming the country's gun laws.

A 23-year-old local man, described by police as a practising Swiss Muslim, was detained on Monday night in connection with the attack.

"He injured one person seriously before worshippers immobilised him on the ground," police spokesman Jean-Christophe Sauterel told swissinfo on Tuesday, adding that the injured man was now out of danger.

Police had scrambled to intercept a man carrying a weapon openly on the streets of Bussigny-près-Lausanne near the lakeside city of Lausanne.

The man then drove to the Islamic centre in neighbouring Crissier, entered the centre at around 7.30pm and fired more than a dozen rounds towards a prayer room.

Sauterel told swissinfo the man was a regular at the centre and confirmed he had used his own standard issue army rifle and ammunition, which members of Switzerland's militia army have to keep at home.

Sauterel said a possible motive for the shooting had not been established and that the man – "who obviously has some sort of psychological problem" – had acted alone.

In 2004 in Lausanne, a man wielding a knife attacked a Muslim prayer leader and wounded three others at an Islamic centre. He was not charged for the act after a judge ruled him unable to stand trial due to a psychological disorder.

Tradition

The latest in a series of shootings involving army weapons will no doubt be picked up by groups demanding reforms to Switzerland's gun laws.

All able-bodied Swiss men aged 20-30 are conscripted for about three months and issued with a rifle, to be used only in the event of an alert.

After initial training, conscripts are required to do three or four weeks of army service a year until they have served a total of 260 days or reached the age of 34. Throughout this time they keep their rifles and 50 rounds of ammunition at home.

Although anti-gun arguments and demands could gain majority support among voters – especially women and younger people – they have a tough time in parliament where they face a formidable gun lobby, which puts pressure on the centre-right parties in particular.

In October, parliament approved a proposal to ban the long-standing Swiss tradition of keeping army ammunition at home.

With the exception of a few thousand of the 120,000 soldiers in Switzerland's militia army who keep their cartridges at home, all army ammunition will have to be stored in central arsenals. Army guns will still be kept at home.

Bad record

Switzerland has an unenviable record when it comes to murders and suicides involving army weapons.

Five years ago Switzerland was shocked when a gunman shot and killed 14 people in Zug's cantonal parliament, before turning the gun on himself.

In the first half of 2006 there were at least six incidents where a man shot his wife or partner before turning the gun on himself. In a highly publicised case the husband of former women's ski champion Corinne Rey-Bellet killed her, her brother and seriously injured her mother with his army pistol before killing himself.

In April 2007 a 26-year-old Swiss killed one man and injured four others after opening fire with his army assault rifle in a Swiss hotel.

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, a member of the rightwing Swiss People's Party, has argued that Switzerland's militia army needs to keep weapons at home to mobilise rapidly "for example to protect airports and railway stations".

swissinfo with agencies

Militia army

The Swiss army functions according to a militia principle. All men liable to do military service undergo basic training and broaden their ...

In brief

Debate on the use of firearms was fuelled in April 2006 when the husband of a former women's ski champion, Corinne Rey-Bellet, killed his wife and her brother with his army pistol.

In June 2006 the Senate came out in favour of slightly stricter rules for purchasing and keeping firearms but a significant tightening of the law was not on the table.

The reform of the gun law aims to bring regulations in line with the EU's open border policy, which Switzerland will be joining in the near future.

The head psychiatrist with the Swiss army has previously called for psychological tests for militia army members to reduce the risk of gun attacks.

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Key facts

Estimations of the number of firearms in circulation in Switzerland range upwards from 1.2 million.
Army-issue weapons are said to be involved in the deaths of more than 300 people in Switzerland every year.
According to Ipsilon Suicide Prevention, 34% of suicides among men are due to firearms, compared with only 3.7% of female suicides.
In April 2007 a survey found that 65.6% of citizens would vote to ban army weapons from the home, 69% were in favour of a national gun register and 37% said a ban on storing army weapons would prevent family tragedies.

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