Syria-bound Swiss man held in Bulgaria on terror charges

A heavily-armed Swiss man has been detained at Bulgaria's eastern border with Turkey and charged with terrorism after allegedly planning to go to Syria, prosecutors announced on Thursday.

Syria-bound Swiss man held in Bulgaria on terror charges
A picture showing the destruction after government forces' bombed the town of Al Habit on the southern edges of the rebel-held Idlib province in Syria on September 9th. Photo: AFP

The man, whose identity has not been revealed, was arrested at Bulgaria's main Kapitan Andreevo border checkpoint on Tuesday and charged for “terrorism and arms smuggling,” prosecutors said in a statement.

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Two automatic rifles, a smoothbore hunting rifle, a SIG Sauer pistol and ammunition for the weapons were found in his car as well as 24 knives and a map of his route showing the Syrian city of Idlib as his final destination, the statement added.

The arrest followed an alert put out by the Swiss authorities after the man's father had reported him and his vehicle missing, together with the arms and ammunition.

The man told prosecutors that he wanted to help civilians in Syria.   

A court will decide on Friday whether to extend his detention beyond the initial 72 hours and place him under formal arrest.

Bulgaria is a major crossing point on the route for Europeans heading to join the jihadist Islamic State organisation in Syria and Iraq but border arrests have dwindled since peaking in 2015.

A major military operation is expected in the coming weeks against the opposition-held province of Idlib, with aid agencies warning of a possible humanitarian catastrophe as a result.

Read also: Top Swiss court upholds jail term for Isis supporter

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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

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.”