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TERRORISM

‘Without Schengen we would be less protected from terror’

Justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga has said Switzerland’s membership of Schengen is vital in the fight against international terrorism and that those who seek to end the Schengen agreement are “irresponsible”.

‘Without Schengen we would be less protected from terror’
Photo: Thierry Charlier/AFP
Sommaruga was speaking in an interview with Blick following the terror attack outside the Houses of Parliament in London on Wednesday.
 
Five people including the attacker were killed when a British man mowed down pedestrians on Westminster bridge before stabbing a police officer outside the Houses of Parliament.
 
Though Switzerland is not in the European Union, since 2008 it has been a member of the Schengen zone, which allows people to move freely between its 26 member countries without a passport. 
 
Schengen has come under fire since the beginning of the migrant crisis, with critics saying it has opened the door to waves of migrants and also allows terrorists and other criminals to move too easily around the zone.
 
However Sommaruga told Blick the “key benefit” of Schengen is police cooperation, allowing national police services to easily and quickly check if a suspect is on the radar of authorities in another Schengen country. 
 
“Without Schengen we would be less protected from terror. We would not get any important information,” she said, adding that those who seek to terminate the agreement are “irresponsible”. 
 
Britain is not a member of Schengen but does take part in the agreement’s information-sharing system.
 
The minister said she was shocked by the attack in London and that such events could also happen in Switzerland, which is why international collaboration is vital. 
 
“No one can manage their own security alone,” she said.
 
Even with such cooperation it is impossible to guarantee security in face of “low-cost” terror acts such as the one in London, she told the paper. 
 
“Any individual can do a lot of damage with little effort.” 
 
Consequently, it is important for the public to assist the authorities by reporting suspected cases of radicalization, she said.
 
“Radicalization often happens slowly, people change little by little,” she said. “The authorities are dependent on teachers, parents, friends to be attentive and, if necessary, to seek advice and assistance from local authorities”.
 
Switzerland should even look to make reporting suspected radicalized people an obligation, she added, though recognized that you cannot punish someone for a crime they haven’t yet committed. 
 
However in 2014 Switzerland imposed a ban on Islamic State (Isis), meaning it is a crime to support the terror group in any way, for example by posting online propaganda or trying to recruit new members.
 
Currently around 500 people in Switzerland are “on the radar” of the authorities for showing sympathy to Isis online, and around 60 are facing criminal proceedings, said Sommaruga. 
 
“The number of truly dangerous people is somewhere between those two figures.”
  

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TERRORISM

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.

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