Switzerland, a Possible Target of Islamist Terrorism?

By OLIVIER GUITTA (Middle East Times)

SWISS NEUTRALITY ENDING? — Traditional Switzerland has tried to hold on to its neutrality and keep its doors open to all, including Islamist groups. But threats from radicals are prompting the country to get off the fence. Photo shows an old chateau at Lake Geneva. (Image via Newscom)


Once considered the safest country in Europe, if not the world, Switzerland is now a potential target of a terrorist attack. Why? In the past few months something has happened to this quiet and neutral country where outside of an occasional banking scandal nothing much went on; at least nothing that merited international focus.



Recently, a slew of events all linked to radical Islamists appears to have shattered the tranquility enjoyed by this Alpine country.


First, came a polemic over an incident akin to the Danish caricature saga; that was followed by new Wahhabi leadership at the Geneva mosque; and a then a prominent Wahhabi figure was denied entry, just to cite a few events. This, much to the chagrin of the Swiss, has placed Switzerland on the Islamists’ radar.


Initially, holding on to its neutrality, the country kept its doors open to various Islamist groups. One person who took advantage of this freedom was Said Ramadan, founder of the World Islamic League and a major figure in the Muslim Brotherhood; he established the Geneva Islamic Center.


One of his children, a prominent figure in the radical world of politicized Islam is Tariq Ramadan, born and living in Switzerland, until Oxford and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair offered him a job. His brother Hani, who has been involved in multiple controversies over his extremist speeches, is currently head of the Geneva Islamic center.


Today, the stronghold of Islamists over the Geneva Muslim community continues unabated. At the end of March, four executives of the Geneva mosque were swiftly fired by the mosque’s new director, an imam recently arrived from Jeddah.


Speculation has it that they were not radical enough. The new imam, Youssef Ibram, a Moroccan, trained first in his native country and then in Saudi Arabia, where he studied Islamic law for six years.


He is, interestingly, a member of The European Committee of the Fatwa, a Who’s Who of Islamists very close to the Muslim Brotherhood and headed by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. (Qaradawi is a prominent Muslim Brother, who justifies suicide attacks against Israelis, civilians and children alike; and U.S. troops in Iraq. He also hosts one of the most popular talk shows on Al-Jazeera TV).


Three years ago, while based in Zurich, when asked about stoning, Ibram answered that this practice should not happen in Switzerland, but also that he could not contest it in principle, since it is mentioned in the hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.) Ibram’s response prompted so much protest that he had to leave Zurich and relocate in Geneva.


The Swiss government in Bern has recently adopted a stronger stand against Islamist extremists by denying entry to Salman al-Odeh. Though Odeh is typically labeled as a moderate, he is among the most extremist of Wahhabi agitators, intelligence sources say.


Odeh is known as of the “Awakening Sheikhs,” because of his spiritual appeal to young Muslims. He was jailed in Saudi Arabia from 1994 to 1999. His radical views called for a theocracy and challenged the kingdom after it allowed “infidel troops” (i.e. U.S. soldiers) to be stationed in the country. Bin Laden quoted Odeh as a favorite religious authority in his early communiqués and defended him after he was jailed.


Odeh’s release in 1999 was negotiated in a deal with the government. In exchange for muting his criticism of the regime, he was allowed to go free and preach, both at home and abroad. He has done so actively, developing the Web site Islam Today to spread extremism worldwide, organizing political statements, and increasingly encouraging anti-American sentiments in Iraq.


A message broadcast by the Swiss embassy in Riyadh, stated the following:


“Al-Odeh is one of the most influential men on the radical Islamist scene, a Wahhabi and a fanatic close to Osama bin Laden. He was jailed in Arabia between 1994 and 1999 because of his extremist views, and from his cell continued the call for an armed jihad against the infidel Western nations.”


In case of violating this travel ban to Switzerland, Swiss authorities threatened Odeh with up to six months imprisonment and a fine up to 10,000 Swiss Francs (about $8,200).


Odeh of course denies the report. In an interview with the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, he accused “extremist Zionist forces” of involvement in preparing the false report. He claimed that accusations linking him bin Laden were “ludicrous,” and professed to have met bin Laden “only once, 20 years ago,” during a visit to a Sharia faculty.” Odeh is suing the Swiss over the report.


But of late another polemic has angered Muslims; a proposal by the Swiss to ban minarets. Suggested by Ulrich Schluer of the UDC (Union Démocratique du Centre), a right-wing party, this matter is not only making waves in Switzerland but also in the Arab world. Al-Jazeera recently mentioned it on its Web site, pushing some viewers to consider boycotting Swiss banks, where billions of petro-dollars are stashed.


The London-based Al-Hayat newspaper and Dubai-based Al-Arabyia TV (both Saudi owned) also expressed concerns over the Swiss initiative. Schluer told a Swiss paper that he was not against mosques and respected freedom of religion; he only objected to minarets: “We consider (minarets) a symbol of political conquest.”


The publishing by the Swiss federal police of a domestic security report is quite revealing, stating that “Islamist terrorism remains a threat for Switzerland.”


Jean-Luc Vez, director of the Swiss federal police commented in the foreword:


“European-born jihadists could come back from Iraq and other war areas as experienced fighters, linked to a network with the same ideology. These isolated individuals, but also al-Qaida, still and always, are capable of organizing terror attacks.”


While Switzerland struggles to maintain its neutrality, authorities fear their country will eventually be forced to get off the fence.

Olivier Guitta, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a foreign affairs and counterterrorism consultant, is the founder of the newsletter The Croissant (www.thecroissant.com).

2 thoughts on “Switzerland, a Possible Target of Islamist Terrorism?”

  1. So at last the Swiss are learning that Islam doesn’t recognise the concept of neutrality.

    Dar al Harb, or Dar al Islam. There is no other category.

    Strange how George Bush got so much stick for saying what is essentially the same thing – “You’re either with us or against us”

  2. The Koranists will leave nobody undisturbed. Even their Uncle Adolf left the Swiss alone at the height of his power!

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