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Biel to open anti-extremism centre

The city of Biel is taking measures against extremism Keystone

Biel has announced that it will open a contact centre for preventing extremism and violence. The news comes in the midst of a scandal over a local imam who preached hatred while receiving Swiss welfare.

The new service is designed to help the authorities recognise potential cases of radicalisation and offer advice and support. The police could become involved in risky cases, officials said. The centre, which will also deal with other forms of violence such as hooliganism, will open its doors on September 1. It can be reached by email or telephone.

The setting up of the centre was not directly linked to the Libyan imam who was revealed earlier this week to be preaching messages of hatred against other religions at a mosque in Biel, while claiming welfare, officials added. Swiss public television SRF reported that he had received CHF600,000 ($620,000) in benefits so far.

Research by Rundschau and the Tages Anzeiger newspaper revealed that Abu Ramadan had been receiving regular unemploymentExternal link and other benefits for the past 13 years from the local authorities in Nidau, the town on the outskirts of Biel. While there is no suggestion that he received the payments illegally, or that the authorities have broken any regulations, the hate-preaching revelations have prompted local politicians to look into the case. Abu Ramadan lost his asylum status earlier this month.

Latest on the case

“If a case like this comes up again, people will know whom to contact,” city official André Glauser told reporters on Friday.

For the time being the authorities have not contacted the imam, nor have they spoken to the people in charge of the mosque. “The city does not have the authority to close the mosque,” said the city government minister for security, Beat Feurer.

The centre is not the only one of its kind in Switzerland. There are similar centres in other parts of the country, such as Bern, Geneva and Zurich.

The Muslim community in Biel has also been working on the issue of radicalisation. It set up the project Tasamouh, aimed at preventing the radicalisation of young people. This takes the form of visits to schools, youth centres and mosques.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR