Swiss profs trained to spot potential jihadists

Teachers in Winterthur in the canton of Zurich will be given training to help them spot the signs of radicalization among their students following the news that at least five young people from the area have joined Isis over the last few months.

Swiss profs trained to spot potential jihadists
At least five students from the Swiss city of Winterthur are said to have joined Isis of late. Photo: AFP/File

As the new school term commences in Switzerland, the teachers will be advised by experts on the potential signs of jihadist leanings, reported newspaper Tribune de Genève on Tuesday.

Those could include a female student suddenly wearing a headscarf, or a male pupil refusing to shake the hand of a woman, said the paper.

Nearby Zurich will take the same steps, despite not having any concrete cases of radicalization.

The city’s office for the prevention of violence is set to publish a paper this October with recommendations for teachers to follow should they notice any worrying signs among their students.

While the Zurich canton teachers’ association supports the move, their colleagues in French-speaking Switzerland are less convinced.

Speaking to the Tribune de Genève, president of the Romandie teachers’ union (SER) Georges Pasquier said he found the move “bizarre”.

Given one of the purposes of school is to develop students’ social skills, any unusual behaviour among students would be picked up as a matter of course, he said, without the need for special training.

“When one of them starts behaving strangely we try, with the support of specialists and parents, to identify the source and sort out the problem. A special programme seems inappropriate.”

He added that to his knowledge, “no school in Switzerland has experienced the phenomenon of systematic radicalization”.

And in any case, if a student is displaying signs, it’s probably too late anyway.

“We must act before then,” he said.

Bilal Ramadan, a member of a Geneva teaching union, agrees, and fears such a move could lead to stigmatization of Muslims.

“We are far from experiencing the problems seen in French schools,” he told the Tribune de Genève.

“Such an initiative would only add fuel to the fire.”

But an anti-terrorism specialist in Geneva sees merit in the Winterthur scheme.

“Potential recruits for groups like IS are getting younger and younger,” said Jean-Paul Rouiller of the Geneva centre for training and analysis of terrorism (GCTAT).

“Giving teachers and educators the tools to detect such a dramatic change seems sensible to me.”

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Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

Four suspected members or sympathisers of the Islamic State group have been detained in Germany and Switzerland in a cross-border operation, prosecutors from the two countries said Tuesday.

Switzerland arrests suspected Isis sympathisers in numerous raids

In Switzerland, three people were picked up in the cantons of Zurich, Sankt Gallen and Lucerne, national authorities said, adding that seven further searches were also carried out.

The suspects, whose identities were not released, are accused of “participation in or support for the outlawed organisation Islamic State”.

In Germany, a man was detained in the western town of Roemerberg, federal prosecutors said.

Identified only as Aleem N., he is “strongly suspected of preparing a serious violent attack threatening the security of the state and of belonging to a foreign terrorist organisation”.

He is believed to have attempted to travel from Germany via Turkey to Syria in September 2020.

“In Syria, the suspect wanted to join the foreign terrorist organisation Islamic State, attain military training and then take part in combat or terrorist attacks,” the federal prosecutor’s office said in a statement.

However, Aleem N. was unable to reach Syria for reasons that were not immediately clear and returned to Germany.

“At the latest in April 2021 he joined Isis in Germany and carried out vast propaganda activities for the group,” prosecutors said.

His duties included “mainly translating official texts, videos and audio messages by Isis from Arabic into German and distributing them on various Telegram channels in German-speaking areas”.

“Isis considered such activities to be equivalent to taking part directly in violent jihad,” it added.

The suspect is also believed to have taken part in a telephone conversation with Isis leaders in late 2021 to “verify his reliability” before travelling to “IS zones of operation”.

However, “a further attempt” to reach Syria in January 2022 “failed again”.

Aleem N. was to appear on Tuesday before a federal judge who will decide whether to remand him in custody.

German intelligence services estimate that more than 1,150 people have travelled from Germany to Iraq and Syria since 2011 for Islamist reasons.

More than a third have since returned to Germany, while at least 270 have been killed in Iraq or Syria.

“A low three-digit-number” are currently detained in the two countries, according to the intelligence services’ 2021 report.