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Assailant in Swiss knife attack was jihadist, say police

The 28-year-old woman has been arrested. © Keystone / Ti-press / Pablo Gianinazzi

A Swiss woman who knifed a victim in the neck and grabbed another by the throat in a department store in the Swiss city of Lugano on Tuesday was a known jihadist who fell in love with a militant online and tried to meet him in Syria, say police.

Federal prosecutors have called the incident in the Italian-speaking southern canton of Ticino a suspected terrorist attack and taken charge of the investigation.

“Police investigations in 2017 revealed that the woman had formed a relationship via social media with a jihadist fighter from Syria,” the Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) tweeted on Wednesday.

Turkish authorities turned her back from the border to Syria when she tried to travel there to meet the man and returned her to Switzerland at the time, it said.

“The woman was suffering from mental health problems at this time. After returning to Switzerland, she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic,” Fedpol said, adding that she had not come to Fedpol’s attention in any terror-related investigation since 2017.

The suspect, a 28-year-old who lives in the area, was in custody after passersby subdued her until police could arrive. None of the injuries to the victims are life-threatening.

Heightened threat

Fedpol director Nicoletta della Valle told a news conference that it was “too early” to draw any links between the incident in Lugano and other attacks.

Last month, the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) published its annual security report, and said that the terrorist threat in Switzerland was currently heightened, notably in the context of the spate of attacks around other European countries this year.

An investigation is currently underway into the fatal stabbing of a Portuguese national in Morges in western Switzerland in September. If found to be a terrorist act, it would be the first such incident recorded in Switzerland since 2011.

Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga has pledged to support the population in Ticino in a telephone call with the head of the Ticino cantonal government, according to the Swiss news agency Keystone-SDA.  

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose own country was the scene of a deadly jihadist shooting earlier this month, tweeted his condemnation of the attack.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR