Islamist website owners found guilty
Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court has handed down a guilty verdict on a couple accused of supporting radical Islamic organisations via internet sites.
The Tunisian man was sentenced on Thursday to six months in prison plus an additional 18 months suspended for supporting criminal organisations and inciting violence. His Belgian wife was given a six-month suspended sentence for aiding and abetting him.
This was the first time a court in Switzerland sentenced someone for supporting an Islamic terrorist organisation.
The accused stood trial in Bellinzona for allegedly letting groups linked to al-Qaeda use internet forums they had set up to exchange information.
The prosecution accused the couple, who lived near Fribourg in western Switzerland, of running four websites in addition to online forums. They were arrested in February 2005.
The sites were allegedly set up to promote racially motivated crimes. They were also used to publicise claims of responsibility for attacks and threats against Western countries as well as broadcasting images of Islamist attacks and executions.
“The defendant has not just made use of the right to freedom of expression, but made pure propaganda,” said judge Bernard Bertossa, who chaired the trial. The prosecution demanded two-and-a-half years imprisonment for the man and 12 months for the woman.
Denial of knowledge
Both defendants – who were held by Swiss police for less than one month during the investigation – maintained their innocence and pleaded not guilty on Wednesday, the first day of the trial.
They always denied knowing everything that was happening on the sites. While admitting that they are Islamists and saying that they wanted to resist oppression, they claimed to be against the loss of innocent lives.
The 39-year-old man was alleged to have used the forums to suggest that two French journalists taken hostage in Iraq be exchanged for a ransom, killed or set free.
The 48-year-old woman allegedly told another correspondent to go and “fight the war in Iraq”.
The couple can still appeal to the Federal Court in Lausanne, Switzerland’s highest judicial body.
This case was the second this year focusing on Islamic terrorism. In February prosecutors suffered a setback when seven defendants were cleared of belonging to and supporting al-Qaeda.
The Belgian woman is the widow of a suicide bomber who killed anti-Taliban warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud in 2001.
In an interview with CNN last year she admitted to being devoted to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The woman was cleared in 2003 by a Belgian court of charges of complicity in Massoud’s murder.
swissinfo with agencies
Two other cases of suspected Islamic terrorism are still pending.
A Saudi Arabian businessman, Y.K., is alleged to have transferred millions from his Swiss bank account to people belonging to al-Qaeda. The case has been with the investigating judge since June 2005.
A preliminary inquiry was opened last September into several people of North Africa origin, arrested in Switzerland and accused of theft in connection with a planned terrorist attack on an Israeli aircraft.
The case of the Egyptian businessman, Youssef Nada, and his al-Taqwa bank was dropped due to a lack of evidence. He was suspected of supporting terrorism. Nada is still on the UN list of terrorist suspects and is under house arrest in Campione d’Italia.
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