Zurich cantonal authorities say they have concrete indications that actions by the Salafist group ‘True Religion’ are aimed at recruiting supporters for "forbidden activities".
On Friday, the cantonal justice office said it recommended banning the distribution of Korans by the group. Some of True Religion members are under criminal investigation, following a ban and police raid of the group in Germany last year.
There is no obligation for any canton or community to make open spaces available to organisations which do not share our values, the statement from the Zurich authorities explainedexternal link. This allows for the ban, without breaking any laws. The decision was based on a legal opinion, it added.
It is not known how many distribution campaigns have been carried out in canton Zurich, but it is clear that Winterthur is an important town for the group. The authorities there said they would analyse the recommendations. Winterthur had previously considering banning the distribution of Korans by the group but had not done so as it was decided a ban could only come after a proven criminal offence.
Canton Zurich Security Director Mario Fehr on Friday called on the Swiss government to ban True Religion. If this does not happen, he will start the process on a cantonal level, he said.
About the group
Known for handing out the Muslim holy book on streets as part of a campaign called “Lies!” (German for 'Read'), the group – founded by Gaza-born, German Salafist Ibrahim Abou-Nagie – promotes the Salafist movement in Islam, which takes a fundamentalist approach to the religion and rejects modern changes or innovations.
The group was banned in Germany last year and shortly afterwards the Swiss Attorney General’s Office opened criminal proceeding against certain members. Authorities suspect that they could be guilty of participating in or supporting a criminal organisation and also potentially violating the federal law that prohibits groups such as Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda or affiliated groups.
In Switzerland, the group is also active in Basel, Bern and in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, although it is not known how many texts have been distributed overall. In canton Basel City, moves have also been made to stop the distribution of the books: no printed matter is allowed to be handed out that poses a risk to public security.
Lies! members distributing Korans in Zurich
The Swiss are working with German officials in this investigation, following the raid of around 200 group members’ homes in Germany last year after ‘True Religion’ was banned there in November 2016. At the time, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière, said the True Religion group had persuaded about 140 people to join militants in Iraq and Syria.
True Religion and their Lies! campaign are not the only Salafist export from Germany. Another group called “We love Muhammad” is also distributing Islamic literature – a biography of the life of Islam religion founder Mohammad – on Swiss streets.
"We love Muhammad" members active in the Swiss canton of Aargau
The group was created by German Islam convert Pierre Vogel - alias Abu Hamsa – who broke away from True Religion. It is not clear if the Zurich ruling will impact this group as well.