Fight against terror demands cooperation

Terror attacks such as the one that struck Madrid are unlikely in Switzerland, says Mauer Keystone

International cooperation against terrorism needs to be improved, a security expert told swissinfo, after a government report warned that Switzerland was at greater risk.

This content was published on May 30, 2006

Victor Mauer of Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology said Switzerland was not a primary target for terrorism but that attacks may be planned from within the country.

Mauer was speaking to swissinfo following the release of the government's annual internal security report on Tuesday, which warned that the risk of operations by Islamic extremists in Switzerland "are becoming a real possibility".

The country is not considered to be a primary target of militant groups, but its location in the heart of Europe meant the risk of operations by Islamic extremists in Switzerland cannot be ruled out.

So far though there has been no hard evidence of preparations for attacks by terrorists – individuals or groups – although there have been suspicions that extremists have used Switzerland as a base in the past.

swissinfo: The federal police says in its report that the threat of terrorism has grown in Switzerland. Do you agree with this finding?

Victor Mauer: I think its more complex than that. It isn't necessarily true that the threat has become bigger. Rather Switzerland is a part of the European operation zone [for extremists]. In this context, you cannot rule out an attack by Islamic extremists.

But I think the trend seen in previous years is continuing. It's an ongoing development rather than a major change.

swissinfo: But the London terror attacks happened in the year under review...

V.M.: But we had attacks in Madrid and Istanbul in previous years. I truly believe the trend and the threat have continued over a longer period. But that also means there has been no dramatic new development.

We cannot rule out that Switzerland is used as a rear base. But intelligence gathering [on possible terrorist activities] remains at a very high level.

Switzerland might be used as a place to prepare attacks outside the country, but it does not constitute a primary target.

swissinfo: How good is cooperation between Switzerland and other European nations in the fight against terrorism?

V.M.: In the past few years, cooperation has clearly become more intense. This is valid for Switzerland as it is for other European countries.

Intelligence services such as Switzerland's also have many bilateral contacts [with colleagues in other countries].

The report shows that cooperation can still be improved. Switzerland is once again no exception in this case, and most countries in Europe are in the same position.

swissinfo: According to the federal police, growing numbers of rightwing extremists are no threat to domestic security. Do you agree?

V.M.: I share this viewpoint. At the moment, these people only represent an occasional threat to public order. The growing presence of rightwing extremist organisations is unsettling though.

But rightwing extremism does not present the same challenge to domestic security as Islamic extremism. The [rightwing] challenge demands responses to specific situations and must be met with resolution.

It is interesting to see the situation here parallels German experiences as a recent report showed. We have seen a clear increase in extreme rightwing violence here too, although in Germany it has a different resonance.

swissinfo-interview: Andreas Keiser

Key facts

Victor Mauer is deputy director and head of research of the Center for Security Studies at Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology.
He studied politics, history, European and international law, and international relations at Bonn, Oxford, and Cambridge universities.
He specialises in European security, European integration, and transatlantic relations.

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