Expert group to oversee returning jihadists

A Syrian army airstrike targets the Islamic State-held Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood in the south of Damascus, Syria, on April 22, 2018 Keystone

Switzerland plans to create a pool of experts to help local authorities deal with suspected jihadist fighters returning from combat zones such as Syria. 

This content was published on April 23, 2018 minutes
SRF/NZZ am Sonntag/sb

The proposal is part of a national plan to prevent radicalisation and violent extremism, which the Swiss authorities presented in December 2017 comprising over 20 different measures, the NZZ am Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday. 

Since 2001, almost 100 so-called jihadi travelers from Switzerland have gone to conflict zones in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The authorities say 29 Swiss combatants have been killed and 16 have returned to Switzerland (see graphic below). 

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André Duvillard, a veteran police official who serves as delegate for the Federal National Security NetworkExternal link, confirmed to NZZ am Sonntag that the Federal Council should approve the creation of this new expert pool in the coming weeks. It is designed to primarily help advise the different cantonal authorities, who are ill-equipped to cope with this phenomenon of returning jihadist fighters both in terms of legal issues and fighters’ reintegration into society. 

Last year, the country’s intelligence service (FIS) said around 100 people in Switzerland had been identified as a high risk for national security, including jihadists and other extremists. The FIS is also tracking 550 people deemed a potential risk as part of its "jihad monitoring programme”. 

There are also about 60 other legal proceedings underway in Switzerland for allegedly supporting banned Islamic or other criminal organisations, according to the justice authorities. Last year, 17 new terrorism cases were opened.

Despite major military defeats of so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, jihadism remains a concern for the Swiss authorities. 

“The situation has not become less dangerous. The police confirm this,” Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber told Swiss public television, SRF, last Friday. “But at the same time, the awareness of the population has changed and they call the intelligence service or the police, and thus the information comes to us.” 

The Swiss so far have avoided the kind of attacks that have hit neighbouring Germany and France. Lauber told SRF that Swiss police and intelligence officers were mainly focusing on cases involving “propaganda, recruitment and support for jihadis” and that a great deal of their work was preventive action.

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