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Leaders of Swiss Islamic organization face criminal charges

Swiss federal prosecutors have brought charges against leading members of the country’s largest Islamic organization in a criminal probe into jihadist propaganda.

Leaders of Swiss Islamic organization face criminal charges
Nicolas Blancho pictured ahead of a cantonal vote in 2013. Photo: Fabrice CoffriniAFP

Swiss media reported on Thursday that the president and two members of the governing board of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) had been charged with violating the ban on groups including Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS).

The three were named as Nicolas Blancho, ICCS president, Naim Cherni, and Qaasim Illi.

In a statement, the office of Switzerland’s attorney general accused the ICCS of making videos in Syria between September and October 2015 featuring a leading member of Al-Qaeda.

The video material was later used for propaganda purposes, according to the indictment, being shown on video platforms including YouTube.

Swiss prosecutors confiscated the footage in December 2015 and asked YouTube to take the videos down.

At the same time they opened a probe against ICCS board member Cherni for violating the prohibition on terrorist organizations.

At the end of 2016, prosecutors expanded their investigation to include Blancho and Illi.

Blancho, who converted to Islam at age 16, has in the past denied being tied to extremism but has staked out positions considered more radical than other Muslim leaders in Switzerland.

The council has previously said that the videos Cherni made in Syria have “nothing to do with Al-Qaeda” and were intended to raise awareness among Muslims about the conflict in the country.

In an email to AFP, Illi said the attorney general was “pushed by an Islamophobic social wave (and) is trying to defame Switzerland's largest Islamic grassroots organization by its fabricated claim”.

He said the ICCS had nearly 4,000 members, representing about one percent of Muslims in Switzerland.

The ICCS prosecution is one of about 60 jihadist-related cases being pursued by the Swiss attorney general.

If convicted, the council members could face up to five years in prison.

SYRIA

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

A 31-year-old woman from Winterthur who tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) is standing trial under Swiss anti-terror laws.

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona. Photo: Swiss Confederation/OFCL

The alleged ‘jihadi tourist' appeared before Switzerland's federal criminal court in Bellinzona on Friday, the Swiss news agency SDA reported. 

In December 2015, the woman, accompanied by her four-year-old child, attempted to travel to Syria via Greece and Turkey in order to join IS, the authorities allege. 

Her intended destination was Raqqa, which was at the time an IS stronghold in Syria.

The woman was prevented from continuing her journey by the Greek authorities and was arrested at Zurich airport on her return to Switzerland in January 2016. 

The Swiss attorney general's office filed an indictment against the Swiss national for offences under the federal law that bans terror groups including Isis. 

According to the indictment, the woman radicalized herself through internet propaganda after converting to Islam in 2009.

It says the Swiss national believed it was the duty of all Muslims to support IS.

She said she rejected western values.

This is only the second case concerning a so-called ‘jihadi tourist' to go before Switzerland's federal criminal court. 

The first prosecution of its kind took place in 2016, when a 26-year-old man was found guilty of attempting to travel to join Isis and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Islamic State has been banned in Switzerland since 2014.