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Police arrest suspected Islamic militants

Some Islamic websites contain propaganda of graphic violence Keystone

The Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s Office has announced the arrest of five suspected Islamic militants in the western cantons of Bern and Fribourg.

This content was published on March 4, 2005 - 21:41

The men have been accused of running internet sites that showed hostages being executed, as well as explaining how to make bombs and carry out attacks.

The five, three of whom are still in custody, were detained on February 22 in raids in the capital, Bern, and nearby Fribourg. Police used force during the operation in Fribourg, the office said without elaborating.

It added that all the suspects were "of the Islamic faith, with extremist leanings." They were not identified.

Officials did not say why two of the suspects have since been released, but admitted they were still under investigation.

It was unclear if any of the killings took place in Iraq. Video recordings of the executions have been posted on various Islamic Web sites.

The prosecutor's office did not say where the killings took place, but Swiss media reports have said the beheading of an American in Saudi Arabia in June was included.

Legal residents

The five men - from Tunisia or Belgium - were legal residents of Switzerland. One is an asylum seeker, while the four others have residence permits.

They are under investigation for incitement to crime and for supporting a terrorist organization.

Police also seized computers, software, video recordings and images during the raids.

Prosecutors said the police operations followed months of investigation of individuals believed to have ties to Arab-language Web sites that contained violent images, including killings and mutilations.

Internet discussion forums linked to the sites were also investigated.

"The forum of one of the sites was often used by the Islamist movement as a communication and propaganda tool," the prosecutor's office said.

The office referred to a now-closed website, saying its forum published letters claiming responsibility for a suicide bomb attack in Pakistan in July.

The forum also contained threats against European governments and information relating to two French reporters, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot. Islamic militants in Iraq held both men for four months before being releasing them in December.

Political discussion

The site’s Swiss Internet service provider shut it down in September three months after it opened because of its content.

Another site was then set up outside Switzerland, the prosecutor's office said, but did not identify the site or the country involved.

The authorities have sought international judicial assistance to have the new site closed.

Moez Garsallaoui, a Lausanne-based Tunisian who ran the original website was quoted as telling the German-language Sunday newspaper SonntagsZeitung that his site was dedicated to "political discussion."

"If terrorists want to use this site to publish things, I can't do anything about it," he was quoted as saying. "I don't have any control over that."

Postings were said to include a threat to kill Italian aid workers Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, who were held by militants in Baghdad for three weeks last September.

Among other postings were: a sermon by an Iraqi Islamic cleric urging Muslims to behead Jews and fight a holy war against unbelievers; pictures of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden fighting in Afghanistan; and graphic images of a man being beaten to death during Christian-Muslim violence in Indonesia.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Swiss police arrested five suspected Islamic militants on February 22.

They are under investigation for incitement to crime and for supporting a terrorist organisation.

Two of the men have since been released.

All five are legal residents of Switzerland.

They are accused of running a website used by Islamic movements for propaganda purposes.

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