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GENEVA TERROR ALERT

TERRORISM

Geneva police hunt for jihadist terror suspects

UPDATED: Geneva police raised the terror alert on Thursday and said they were "actively searching" the city for suspected jihadists who may be linked to the Islamic State group (Isis).

Geneva police hunt for jihadist terror suspects
An armed French gendarme at the France–Switzerland border. File photo: AFP

The canton of Geneva's security department said it had received information on Wednesday from Swiss federal authorities concerning “suspicious individuals likely to be in Geneva or the Geneva area.”
   
Police were “actively looking” for these individuals “in the context of the investigation following the Paris attacks”, the department said in a statement, while reinforcements were deployed at key locations including United Nations buildings.

In a statement, Geneva justice authorities said the public prosecutor's office had opened a criminal investigation into “unlawful preparatory acts” that is being led by cantonal attorney general Olivier Jornot and chief prosecutor Yves Bertossa.

The investigation was launched after Swiss officials received information from the US about suspects actively being sought, the Tribune de Genève newspaper reported online.  

“We went from a vague threat to a specific threat,” Geneva security spokesman Emmanuelle Lo Verso told Swiss Radio, adding that the search for the suspects was at “a very active phase.”
   
A security source at the United Nations complex in Geneva told AFP that the search was for four people with possible ties to the Islamic State group which claimed the attacks that killed 130 people in Paris last month.

The Tribune de Geneve reported that an additional two people were being sought.
   
The individuals were not believed to have any direct link to the Paris atrocities.

UN offices evacuated

The UN source said the Palais des Nations — the UN's European headquarters — was evacuated on Wednesday night as security personnel conducted office-to-office searches.
   
Security guards posted at the UN gates were also carrying sub-machine guns on Thursday, a departure from normal practice.
   
The statement from Geneva's government said police “have increased their level of vigilance”, while the ATS new agency reported that security reinforcements were being deployed at key buildings around the city, including the headquarters of major international organizations and the airport.

The development emerges a day before representatives of the US, Russia and the United Nations were scheduled to hold talks on the Syria crisis in Geneva. 

Russian deputy foreign minister Gennady Gatilov said Russia will present its “vision” for intensifying joint efforts to fight terrorism in Syria.

U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson, the top US diplomat for the Middle East, will represent Washington at the meeting.

Kirby was quoted as saying the talks would “try to get at the framework and the architecture for a cease-fire”. 

According to ATS, the heightened alert level has not led to the cancellation of L'Escalade, a major festival due to be held in Geneva's historic old town on Sunday.

Organizers said that extra police patrols would be instated for the event, which features 800 people marching in historic costumes to celebrate a historic victory in 1602, when Genevans repelled attacking soldiers from Savoy.
   
Geneva is just over 500 kilometres from Paris and the Swiss city is almost entirely enclosed by France, with some border crossings often unstaffed.
   
Last month, French police searched the homes of two imams from Geneva's main mosque, which is just metres from the UN complex.
   
The imams reportedly live in the French border town of Ferney-Voltaire.
   
Swiss media reports said leaders at the mosque had been preaching extremist ideology, but there was no indication from police that the two imams were implicated in any wrongdoing.
Guards armed with machine guns outside the entrance to UN headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Richard Juilliart/AFP 

 

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TERRORISM

UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

In a rare case of alleged Islamist "terrorism" in Switzerland, a woman was jailed for nine years on Monday for the brutal knife attack on two shoppers at an upscale department store.

UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

A Swiss woman accused of slashing two people in the name of the Islamic State group in an upmarket shop
was sentenced on Monday to nine years prison coupled with psychiatric treatment.

The criminal court judges found the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, guilty of two counts of attempted murder, and of violating the Swiss laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related Islamist groups.

The woman, who has not been named, tried to slit the throats of two women shopping at the Manor store in Lugano, in Switzerland’s southern, Italian-speaking Ticino region on November 24, 2020.

The attacker, 28 at the time, was accused of committing a “jihadist knife attack” and had “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS” (the Islamic State group), the attorney general’s office said earlier this year.

Random victims

On the day of the attack, the woman had gone to Manor’s kitchen supply division on the fifth floor, picked out a large bread knife and approached a random woman standing nearby.

Grabbing her from behind, the assailant plunged the knife at least 10 centimetres into her throat, missing her main carotid artery “by a few millimetres”, the court heard. 

As she screamed “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and “I will avenge the Prophet Mohammed”, she struck the victim to the ground, and then moved on to a second woman, stabbing the knife towards her face and shouting “I am here for
Isis”.

The second woman suffered defensive wounds to her right hand, but managed with help from others to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

“The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness,” prosecutors said, maintaining that she had acted “with the aim of killing (her victims) and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’.”

Mental health problems

Police quickly discovered the alleged assailant had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

After “falling in love” over social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria, she had attempted in 2017 to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, but was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, it is alleged.

Upon her return, she was deemed to have mental health problems. She was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and fell off the security police radar until the attack three years later, police said.

The assailant had reportedly once been married to a Muslim asylum seeker and had converted to Islam.

‘Very rare’

Experts said the trial marked a rare event, pointing out that such attacks are almost unheard of in the wealthy Alpine country.

Switzerland has never experienced a large-scale terror attack, though it did suffer two other individual knife attacks in 2020 by people with suspected jihadist ties.

“In Switzerland, it’s been very random and very rare that we have people that conduct terrorist attacks,” Christina Schori Liang, a terrorism expert at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told AFP.

It is even rarer that the alleged jihadist attacker is a woman.

“Isis has never claimed an attack carried out by a woman,” Damien Ferre, founder of the Jihad Analytics group which analyses global and cyber jihad, told AFP.

While there were reports of women carrying out attacks in the battle for Mosul in Iraq in 2004, he stressed that “it was never proven and the group did not communicate about it.”

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