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GENEVA TERROR ALERT

TERRORISM

Americans in Switzerland advised to be ‘vigilant’

The US Embassy in Bern has advised American citizens to be highly vigilant and to take “appropriate steps to enhance personal security” in the wake of the terror alert in Geneva.

Americans in Switzerland advised to be 'vigilant'
Police patrol Geneva airport. Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP

The embassy issued a “security message” on its website on Thursday after Geneva and Swiss federal authorities announced they were conducting a criminal investigation into the “possible planning of a terrorist event”.

Both federal and cantonal authorities have been short on specifics about the terrorist threat “for tactical reasons” but they say they are looking for suspected jihadists.

Swiss media have reported that at least four and possibly six people are being sought by police in connection with the investigation that has put law enforcement officers on high alert.

The cities of Geneva, Chicago and Toronto were listed as possible targets in a police document cited by local reports.

Guards with submachine guns have been posted outside the entrance to the United Nations and other international organizations in Geneva, and armed police were visible at the airport and main train station.

“In this time of elevated threat, the US Embassy in Bern reminds US citizens to review personal security plans, remain aware of surroundings at all times and monitor local news stations for updates,” the message on its website said.

It also recommended that Americans travelling to or residing in Switzerland enroll in the US Department of State’s “smart traveller enrolment programme”.

The programme is designed to provide the latest security updates and “makes it easier for the nearest US embassy or consulate to contact you in an emergency”.

The Canadian federal government said it is “vigilant” and “alert” to terrorist threats after warnings of possible plots against its major cities linked to the Islamic State extremist group, public safety minister Ralph Goodale said on Thursday.

“To this moment there is nothing new or different that would affect the security situation in
Canada,” Goodale told reporters outside parliament in Ottawa.

“There is no change in the status of the alerts (in Canada),” he said.

“There is no new information reported to me that would change the circumstances. 

“If there is something new we would obviously let Canadians know immediately and we will take the appropriate steps.”

The UK Embassy in Bern on its website advised British citizens to “follow the instructions of Swiss security authorities . . . who have confirmed an ongoing police operation in the Geneva area.”

It added that Geneva police had “raised its level of vigilance but Swiss authorities have not otherwise changed the overall public security status in Switzerland”. 

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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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