A recent study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) shows the geographic distribution of known radicalized jihadists across Switzerland. According to figures in the report the Lake Geneva region is a hotspot with significantly higher radicalisation rates than the rest of the country.
The region’s overall rate of 2.7 radicalized inhabitants per 100,000 residents is 69% higher than the Swiss average of 1.6.
In addition, at 65 per 100,000, the rate of radicalisation among the region’s muslim population is also well above the Swiss average of 35.
French-speaking Switzerland is home to only 24% of the nation’s total population but 42% of Switzerland’s known jihadists.
The study also offers insights into the background of jihadists, who are typically second generation muslim men aged between 18 and 35.
Men made up 89% of the known 130 jihadists studied. Most were poorly educated and aged 15 to 35 (80%). Only 5% had studied at a tertiary level, although 88% had finished high school and most had worked as apprentices. 72 the 130 studied had travelled to engage in jihad.
In addition, unemployment rates were far higher than average, with 40% of the group on welfare. The percentage not working was 33% before radicalisation and 58% after, an observation underlined in the report.
While only 22% of the 130 people studied had western or southern European backgrounds, most were largely raised in Switzerland – 35% were born in Switzerland, 21% arrived before the age of 12 and 10% arrived between the ages of 12 and 18.
The most common backgrounds among the group were former Yugoslav (32%), north African (21%) and middle eastern (15%). The rate of radicalisation among those with former Yugoslav backgrounds was lower than those from north Africa and the middle east. Radicalized north Africans we more likely to live in French-speaking Switzerland (82%) and the radicalized with former Yugoslav (69%) and middle eastern (80%) backgrounds more likely to live in German-speaking Switzerland.
A significant portion of the group had grown up with social problems, such as the loss of a family member, departure of a parent, job loss, sickness, and domestic violence. Illegal drug use was also common (53%). 39% had psychiatric problems, often related to social problems. Criminality was also high. A quarter had criminal convictions before being radicalized, mainly property, drug and violence related.
According to the report, prior religious activity was a poor predictor of jihadism. Only 23% were from practicing muslim families, while 15% were from secular families and 41% from liberal families.
Consumption of online jihadist propaganda was a better predictor. For 78% of those studied this was considered a crucial or probably crucial part of their radicalisation, although the authors did warn that the sample for which they had this information was small and many of them were also in direct contact with salafist preachers and belonged to a group of like minded individuals, something the report suggests might be a better predictor of radicalisation than propaganda.
77 people are known to have travelled from Switzerland to engage in jihad, a rate of 9 per million residents. The rates for Belgium (36), Austria (34), France (29) and Germany (13) were all higher. Only Italy (2), out of the countries compared, had a lower rate. In addition, the rate of jihadists among muslims in Switzerland (150 per million) was lower than in Belgium (460), Austria (500), France (340) and Germany (210). In Italy the rate was 40.