Winterthur mosque boss fights off criticism

Under fire: the An’Nur mosque in Winterthur Keystone

Keeping tabs on worshippers who may be problematic is not part of a mosque leader’s job, according to the president of the Swiss mosque that once hosted at least three jihadists. 

This content was published on December 15, 2015

Atef Sahnoun, president of the An’Nur mosque in Winterthur, appeared on Swiss public television, SRF, on Monday night. During the live half-hour interview, show host Roger Schawinski quizzed Sahnoun about the controversy surrounding his mosque, citing, for example, the need to find out how those three youths had been radicalised, and by whom. 

“Yes, but that’s not my job,” replied Sahnoun, despite Schawinski’s insistence that the head of the mosque should know what is going on.

At least three people who attended services at the An’Nur mosque are known to have been radicalised and become jihadists; a Swiss investigative journalist believes there have been at least six jihadists to come out of Winterthur. 

“There is a whole bunch of preachers and prayer leaders who meet with youngsters in the mosque, or outside, and attempt to radicalise them,” said Kurt Pelda in an interview with the Winterthur newspaper, Landbote. Sahnoun told Schawinski that he had not had the opportunity to speak with Pelda yet. 

Schawinski also questioned Sahnoun about the prayers being recited at the mosque, and played a recording of an imam at his mosque saying the following: “You, our lord, give us victory over the non-believers … honour Islam and Muslims, and chasten polytheism and idolatry, destroy the enemies of religion, support your praying jihadists everywhere”. 

Sahnoun rejected Schawinski’s suggestion that the prayer could be classified as hate speech.

At the end of the half-hour interview, Sahnoun said he was not a fan of the militant Islamic State (IS) group. Schawinski countered that Sahnoun “wasn’t a fan of finding out what was going on”, either.

The Swiss tax system forwards funds to churches based on the religion of the taxpayer. However, this is not the case for mosques in Switzerland, which means that staff members like Sahnoun are essentially unpaid volunteers.

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