The Magazine

Cuckoo Clocks and Jihadists

What Switzerland is now producing.

Jul 16, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 41 • By OLIVIER GUITTA
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The Federal Police explained their decision this way: "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 fact, bin Laden cited Odeh as a favorite religious authority in his early communiqués and defended him after he was jailed. His release in 1999 was negotiated in a deal with the Saudi government. In exchange for promising to mute his criticism of the regime, Odeh was allowed to go free and resume preaching, both at home and abroad. He has done so actively, developing the website Islam Today to spread extremism worldwide, organizing political statements, and encouraging jihad against America in Iraq.

In an interview with the pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, al Odeh called the accusations "a big lie impossible to believe," and attributed them to "extremist Zionist forces." He dismissed as ludicrous his alleged links to bin Laden, saying, "I met Bin Laden only once 20 years ago while I was visiting the Sharia faculty." Al Odeh added that he is suing the Swiss authorities.

Similarly, courts are being used in new, if hardly draconian, ways. On June 22, for the first time ever, two people were convicted in a Swiss court of support for a criminal organization in a case linked to Islamist terrorism. The two ran radical websites, complete with images of executions of hostages, massacres of civilians, disfigured people, and detailed instructions for bomb-making, as well as a chat room that promoted jihad. One of the defendants, Malika el-Aroud, is the widow of Abdessater Dahmane, who helped assassinate Massoud, the Afghan Northern Alliance leader killed by al Qaeda on September 9, 2001; she was given a six-month suspended sentence. The other defendant, her boyfriend, a Tunisian living in Switzerland, was sentenced to prison for six months.

In its May 31, 2006, Swiss Domestic Security Report, the Federal Police stated plainly that violent Islamists are using Swiss soil as a strategic location from which to spread propaganda and provide financial and logistical support to people abroad. The report also underlined Geneva's growing importance as a transit point for volunteers from French-speaking Switzerland and France going to join the jihad in Iraq. Further, wrote Jean-Luc Vez, director of the Federal Police, in the foreword: "European-born jihadists could come back from Iraq and other war zones as experienced fighters, linked to a network with the same ideology. . . . These isolated individuals, but also al Qaeda, remain capable of organizing terrorist attacks."

Coincidentally, the largest synagogue in Geneva was gutted by fire on May 24, in what has been ruled a case of criminal arson. As of now, no arrests have been made. But any illusion that Switzerland was somehow immune to the fires of intolerance is long since gone.

Olivier Guitta is the founder of the foreign affairs and counterterrorism newsletter The Croissant.