Plans to attack Israeli passenger jet confirmed

The target was an El Al airliner, reportedly at Geneva airport (Omar Saffe) Omar Saffe

A plot by a suspected terrorist cell to shoot down an Israeli airliner has been foiled by the Swiss authorities, it was announced on Thursday.

This content was published on June 8, 2006 - 16:43

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor's office said that seven people of North African origin were under arrest in connection with the plan.

Israeli media reported last month that the terrorist cell had planned a rocket attack on the El Al aeroplane in December 2005, during takeoff from Geneva airport. Flights were diverted to Zurich for a week.

The prosecutor's office said that the arrests were made following raids on May 12 this year in Basel and Zurich.

"The inquiry... showed that this cell had seriously envisaged to commit an attack in our country against a plane belonging to the Israeli airline El Al," said the office in a statement.

However, it said that contrary to reports the authorities had not confiscated missiles or any explosives in connection with the planned attack.

At the time of the initial reports of the plot, the airport's authorities confirmed to swissinfo in May that for a week in December El Al flights to Tel Aviv were diverted to Zurich. "We were not given any explanation," said spokesman Philippe Roy.

El Al, which runs three flights a week between Tel Aviv and Geneva, said it did not not comment on security matters.

International links

Investigations also found that one of the members of the group had links to Mohamed Achraf, the suspected mastermind of a plot to blow up the National Court in Madrid.

Achraf was arrested in Switzerland and then extradited to Spain in April last year.

According to the statement, justice officials moved in on a group carrying out thefts across the Zurich region in early 2005.

Subsequent investigations found that part of the profits from the thefts were going towards financing a terrorist organisation and that the arrested people had contacts with similar cells in France and Spain.

The May arrests were "the result of a long and very close collaboration with the police and justice authorities in several European countries and a huge investigation in Switzerland," said the statement.

It added that the May 12 raids had subsequently led to more arrests in three cantons. The seven people are currently being detained due to fears over escape and collusion risks.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The plot revealed on Thursday is not the first time an El Al aircraft has been targeted in Switzerland.

In February 1969 a Palestinian group (three men and a woman) threw grenades against the cockpit of an El Al Boeing which was taking off from at Zurich's Kloten airport for Tel Aviv.

The pilot was killed, as was one of the attackers, who was shot by a member of the Israeli secret services who was on the plane.

Three Palestinians were later sentenced to 12 years in prison by a Swiss court. The Israeli was acquitted of all charges.

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