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Imam at Swiss mosque denies Isis links

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View of Winterthur's Old Town. Photo: Simon Aughton
09:37 CET+01:00
The spiritual leader of a mosque in the canton of Zurich linked by media reports to jihadists is strongly denying any involvement in encouraging young Muslims to fight for the Islamic State (Isis).

“I want to emphasize, as I have already done in many sermons previously, that I condemn the actions and the ideology of (Isis),” the mosque’s 51-year-old imam said in an interview with the German-language news website watson.ch.

“I despise them for having distorted the image of Islam in all of Europe.”

The comments of the imam of the An’Nur mosque in the city of Winterthur’s Hegi neighbourhood mark the first time he has spoken out since reports have linked the mosque to a cell of the terrorist group Isis.

Kurt Pelda, a Swiss war correspondent regarded as an expert on Syria, told Der Landbote newspaper last week that preachers and prayer leaders at the mosque were meeting with young people in a bid to “radicalize them”.

Pelda said he believed someone was masterminding an Isis from the mosque.

Later reports linked the imam, a Libyan who arrived in Switzerland 15 years ago as a political refugee, with such radical activity.

But he told Watson he is not an Isis “godfather” and has no links with the group.

He acknowledged that he had visited Libya several times but to visit his sick mother, not to meet with Isis members.

The imam lamented the fact that various media articles had appeared about him with incorrect and unfounded information.

Seven young adults have to travelled to Iraq or Syria from Winterthur, five of whom never returned, according to media reports.

The adults included world Thai boxing world champion Valdet Gashi who traveled to Syria to fight for Isis and reportedly died there.

The imam told watson.ch he did not personally know any of them.

“I want to repeatedly emphasize that the media accusations are completely contrived,” he said.

The imam said while he was at university in Libya he belonged to a group of rebels who opposed former Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi.

“That’s why I had to flee,” he said.

“My brother was killed by Gaddafi.”

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