The changing face of jihadism in Switzerland

Author thumbnail
The Local/AFP - [email protected]
The changing face of jihadism in Switzerland
File photo. A bomb disposal unit policeman prepares to destroy an unattended bag. Photo: Richard Juilliart / AFP

A Swiss terror expert has warned that the jihadist threat is evolving, with more ‘homegrown’ terrorists and a total of around 1000 people in Switzerland thought to be linked in some way to terrorist organizations.


"We are beginning to realize that key players in Swiss jihadism are native, and they have connections with other countries," Jean-Paul Rouiller, the director of the Geneva Centre for Training and Analysis of Terrorism, told the Tribune de Geneve in an interview published on Wednesday.

"The novelty is that we're no longer seeing imported jihadism. A hotbed of Swiss jihadists is being created [...] made up of people who grew up in Switzerland," said Rouiller, who created the Swiss Federal Police’s first counter-terrorism unit in 2010.

His comments came as prosecutors confirmed four people had been arrested in June for suspected links to jihadist organizations.

Rouiller said that while some of those who have been arrested for terror links would "see the light", others could pose a risk once released from jail. If that happened, he explained, Switzerland would see a "different dynamic" in terms of the terror threat.

Several terror suspects linked to attacks in France and Germany are thought to have been radicalized while in jail.

READ ALSO: Switzerland faces 'heightened' terror threat in uncertain EuropeSwitzerland faces ‘heightened' terror threat in uncertain Europe

In total, 88 people are known to have left Switzerland to join terror groups abroad, though Rouiller believes this figure is closer to 100.

What’s more, each of those people benefit from financial and other kinds of support in order to make such journeys possible, meaning that the total number of people who are linked to terrorism in Switzerland in some way could be around 1000.

So where are these people radicalized - and how?

According to a two-year research project carried out by, there are five areas where the majority of these people were radicalized: Winterthur, Arbon, Lausanne, Biel and Geneva. Researchers identified 72 people believed to have travelled from Switzerland to conflict areas and looked into their activities and networks beforehand.

According to the report, the primary means of radicalization is through "charismatic leaders" such as imams and preachers rather than online communication, for example. 

Four arrests

Swiss police have arrested four people this month with suspected links to jihadist organizations, fearing some posed "an immediate danger", prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The office of Switzerland's attorney general (OAG) confirmed that three people were arrested in the western canton of Vaud last Friday and Saturday, suspected of violating "the prohibition of groups like Al-Qaeda, Isis and similar organisations."

They were also suspected of participating in a "criminal organization", it said. Police swooped on a car outside a busy mall in Aubonne, Vaud on Saturday, in what one onlooker said looked like a scene straight out of an "American movie".

"It was surreal," the witness told the 20 Minutes daily, describing how heavily-armed police had blindfolded and taken the driver away.

READ ALSO: Switzerland looks to tighten anti-terror laws

OAG information chief Andre Marty said that the Aubonne arrests were made because it was believed the suspects "might pose an immediate danger." Police had first arrested another person in Vaud on Friday, and Marty said investigators were now seeking to determine the connection between the three.

A fourth man - reportedly a taxi driver suspected of being an Isis recruiter - was arrested in Geneva on June 14th. He was not believed to have any connection with those arrested in Vaud, Marty said, insisting it would be "a complete exaggeration to talk about the dismantlement of a terrorist network."

Swiss authorities are currently investigating some 60 cases linked to suspected jihadist terrorism, the OAG said, stressing that most of those cases revolve around the spread of jihadist propaganda over the internet.

"Nothing justifies alarmism," it said.

By The Local with AFP



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also