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Government takes tougher action against terrorism

Ayman al-Zawahri (left), a key aide to Osama bin Laden, is said to have previously lived in Switzerland Keystone Archive

The Swiss cabinet has outlawed Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, and is boosting the number of personnel tracking terrorist funds.

The cabinet made the announcement on Wednesday shortly after the Federal Police Office ordered a search of the premises of a suspected terrorist financing group, Nada, in the Italian enclave of Campione d’Italia in canton Ticino.

The cabinet said it was outlawing the al-Qaeda network because it suspected the network was involved in the September 11 attacks in the US, and therefore posed a threat to the security of Switzerland.

The ban means that members of the network would face arrest in Switzerland, and that assets of the organisation – if any are found – could be seized. The ban applies not only to the organisation itself, but also to activities designed to support it – propaganda, for instance.

The justice minister, Ruth Metzler, said it was the first time in more than 50 years that Switzerland had outlawed an organisation. The last to be banned were communist and Nazi groups after the Second World War.

Following financial trail

The cabinet announced it would increase the number of personnel devoted to tracking terrorist funds by taking on five extra staff at the Federal Police Office in Bern.

It added that it intended to ask parliament to ratify the United Nations convention against the financing of terrorism as soon as possible.

Metzler said al-Qaeda’s status as outlawed organisation would remain in place until the end of 2003, as a “security precaution”.

Swiss officials have said there are no indications that the country has been used as a base for terrorists, although it is possible that a key bin Laden aide, Ayman al-Zawahri previously lived in Switzerland, using false identity papers.

The cabinet has imposed new measures to improve the exchange of information among government departments. All offices will now be required to circulate immediately any information about possible threats to internal security.

swissinfo with agencies

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR