Are Swiss Jihadists a danger? The silence of Switzerland’s moderate Muslims was broken last week following the arrest in Kosovo of two imams who had travelled to Switzerland to recruit for Syria and Iraq. Four days later, the Albanian Islamic Centre of Lausanne denounced what it called “the brain washers” whose actions “daily shock the world and which have nothing to do with Islam”. One of those arrested is the imam of the Grand Mosque in Pristina, Shefqet Krasniqi, who visited Switzerland on his Schengen visa. The police found a considerable sum of Swiss francs when searching his home, according to Albinfo.ch, the Lausanne-based website for Albanian-speakers. Swiss-born Muslim convert Nicolas Blancho, known for his extremist views, including a bid to create a caliphate, had invited Krasniqi to address local mosques. The official view from Bern is that there is little risk of jihadist attacks against Swiss citizens and that ISIS activities here consist mainly of enrolling fighters via the internet and attempting to hack into banks to finance its holy war. The Swiss Intelligence service (SRC) has not updated its May 2014 estimate that there are 40 jihadists from Switzerland now in Syria and Iraq. Terrorism experts are also monitoring the online activities of 60 others on Swiss territory.
A francophone network was recently uncovered, involving several Swiss jihadists. According to a French television (TF1) report on 12 September, Switzerland has become a target of French intelligence following the arrest of an alleged terrorist from Thonon-les-Bains, who was part of a recruitment network led by an unnamed Swiss from Orbe.
“This is a war being managed online, on Twitter, Facebook or through blogs,” said Christina Schori Liang, a security expert with the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). “This has caught the international community flat-footed. It is the first digital war the world has seen and we don’t know how to fight it. They are basically friends talking to each other online. What happens is that one of them leaves and then helps to recruit others. ISIS is not allowing them to return because it is training them to become martyrs for suicide missions.”
Other experts say that while Westerners are beheaded when ransom money is not paid, it is moderate Muslims who have more to fear because they oppose a caliphate. Schori Liang and others believe one effective weapon against ISIS is counter-propaganda. The US Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications recently posted a video showing ISIS sympathizers blowing up mosques with Muslims inside and executing others. It ends with a note to would-be martyrs: “Travel is inexpensive because you won’t need a return ticket!” It then shows a body being thrown off a cliff.
Meanwhile, the Savatan Police Academy in St Maurice is planning a forum on 10 October to discuss the return of religious wars and how to use the internet to combat jihadist recruitment. Lorenzo Vidino, a security expert at the Federal Institute for Technology (ETH) in Zurich, agrees with the official view that the primary jihadist activity in Switzerland is using the internet to recruit martyrs and hack into banks. He also believes the jihadist threat to Switzerland is small because “the Swiss policy of neutrality does not provide a source of political grievance”.