Swiss sign up to stop travel for terrorism

Switzerland joined 17 other countries on Thursday in signing a European protocol aiming to prevent people from travelling to join terror groups such as Isis.

Swiss sign up to stop travel for terrorism
The amendment aims to thwart the recruitment of Europeans by terror groups in Syria and elsewhere. to Photo: Thaer Mohammed/AFP

The amendment to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism aims to combat the problem of European citizens travelling to join terror groups on foreign soil.

It was opened for signature in Riga on Thursday and signed for Switzerland by Stephan Husy, Swiss special envoy for the international fight against terrorism.

The protocol outlaws travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism, receiving training for terrorism, as well as the financing, organization and facilitation of such journeys.

France, Germany, the UK and Spain were among the other nations signing the amendment, which was prepared in a record time of seven weeks in view of the serious threat posed by foreign fighters, said Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, at the ceremony.

“For the first time in international law, we have an instrument that criminalises early preparations for acts of terror,” he said.

“The Additional Protocol to the Convention of Terrorism sets out how we can jointly take on foreign terrorist fighters within the rule of law and human rights. It is the vital, missing piece of the jigsaw.”

Now signed, the protocol must be ratified by the national parliaments of at least six of the 47 members of the Council of Europe.

Switzerland has been a member of the Council of Europe, which works to promote human rights, democracy and rule of law, since 1963.

Combating the rising number of Europeans going to fight in Syria and Iraq, as well as the radicalization of youths, is a “priority” for the Swiss government, foreign minister Didier Burkhalter said earlier this year.

In April a 25-year-old Swiss man was arrested at Zurich airport on suspicion of trying to travel to Syria to join jihadists.

In August Swiss media reported that teachers in Winterthur were being trained to spot the signs of radicalization among their students, after at least five young people from the area travelled to join Isis.

According to UN experts, Isis pays $10,000 to every recruit to the jihadist cause.

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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.