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Swiss indict three for alleged al-Qaeda propaganda films

The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona
The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona will rule on the indictment Keystone

The Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) has filed an indictment in the Federal Criminal Court against three committee members of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS). The OAG alleges that the accused broke federal laws banning support for al-Qaeda, Islamic State and associated organisations. 

The ICCSExternal link describes itself as the country’s largest Islamic organisation and says it focuses on representing the local population. However, its 3,000 members make up less than 1% of the estimated 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland. 

ICCS spokesman Abdel Azziz Qaasim Illi, who told Reuters he was one of the three men charged, dismissed the case as a “political show trial”, and said authorities had misunderstood the video at the heart of the case. 

The indictment did not name the suspects, but the ICCS said in a statement the other two were its chairman, Nicolas Blancho, and its cultural production head, Naim Cherni. 

The specific allegation against Cherni is that between the end of September 2015 and mid-October 2015 he made films in Syria with a leading member of the banned terrorist organisation al-Qaeda in Syria, the OAG said in a statement on Thursday. 

The films were subsequently used as propaganda for the al-Qaeda member concerned, according to the OAG. Two videos were published on YouTube, both of which were endorsed by the head of the “public relations and information department” at the ICCS and actively promoted via social media and at a public event by all three accused: by the committee members mentioned and by the ICCS president. 

Qaasim Illi called the indictments “clearly politically motivated” and said the interview had been with a senior Saudi cleric who denied having links to al-Qaeda. 

“The point of the interview was to counter [Islamic State] propaganda with a credible figure from the moderate Syrian rebel spectrum. The interview itself never concerned al-Qaeda,” he added in an email to Reuters. 

Jihad-motivated terrorism

The OAG alleges that the accused offered the leading al-Qaeda member in question “a prominent multilingual multimedia platform from which to advantageously portray and promote both himself and the ideology of al-Qaeda, the terrorist organisation he represents”. 

The OAG claims to have proof that this increased the appeal of al-Qaeda to existing and potential members around the world, thus promoting the organisation’s criminal activities.

“The present indictment documents the strict prosecution brought against all persons in Switzerland who attempt to take part in jihad-motivated terrorism, or who support this by means of propaganda,” the OAG said. 

Currently the OAG is conducting, with the support of the Swiss Federal Office of Police (fedpol), around 60 criminal proceedings as part of a series of prosecutions related to jihadist-motivated terrorism. The majority of these cases relate to propaganda in support of terrorist organisations.

The OAG will submit its proposals for sentencing at the main hearing before the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR