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Video controversy Islamic group ‘shocked’ at charges against leader

Young Syrians walk near a damaged building in a rebel-held area near Damascus. ICC leader Naim Cherni travelled to Syria to speak with groups involved in the conflict and is being investigated for making propaganda related to terror groups

(Keystone)

The Islamic Central Council (ICC) says news of a Swiss investigation into its leader for making a film about jihadi groups has come as a “shock”. He and the organisation maintain his innocence, stating that the film is intended to stir debate about such groups, not promote them. 

ICC Secretary General Ferah Ulucay told the media on Monday that the film made by the group’s leader, Naim Cherni, was meant to give a voice to critics of groups such as the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. 

The Swiss authorities were forced to act late of Monday to have the film removed from YouTube after it was spotted there by a Swiss newspaper.

On Saturday, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office announced it was investigating Cherni for having made a propaganda video in embattled regions of Syria. Authorities said Cherni had not sufficiently distanced himself from the activities of terror organisations in Syria, since he interviewed jihadi leaders in the area.

Specifically, he spoke with a senior member of jihadist organisation Jaish al-Fatah ("Army of Conquest"), of which the Syrian al-Qaeda branch Jabhat al-Nusra ("Support Front") is also a member. Cherni is being investigated him on the basis of the Swiss law banning al-Qaeda, IS and related organisations. 

Cherni maintained his innocence before the media on Monday, stating that this was not the first time he had travelled to Syria to document the situation there. For this particular film, he had wanted to show why rebels are choosing to fight against members of IS. He called the attorney general’s investigation a “stab in the back” with a “weak, politically motivated argument”. He expects the charges to be dropped quickly. 

The main interview in question with a jihadi leader was done spontaneously, Cherni continued, and doesn’t indicate that he shares the same views as the person interviewed. Ulucay added that the Islamic Central Council group has always distanced itself from terror and violence and that such explicit distancing was not possible in this case because the ICC is never mentioned in the film.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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