Switzerland is not a country often in the news. Famous for its status as a neutral nation, Switzerland is neither a European Union member-state nor a part of NATO. It does, however, have a high immigrant population, and that fact – along with its geographical size and location – make it a potentially attractive option for Jihadists seeking a base of operations in western Europe. Neutral or not, there is terrorism in Switzerland.
The Reuters news agency reported 22 February that Swiss police had conducted a raid on a Mosque and a number of houses in the canton of Ticino in the country’s south. One man was arrested, and two others are currently being investigated for possible efforts to recruit for Islamist groups.
A string of other recent arrests and convictions of individuals linked to Islamist extremism and the planning of terror attacks across Europe highlight a, potentially, growing problem in the small country, known more for picturesque mountains and ski resorts than terrorist activity. The perpetrator of the December 2016 truck attack on the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany – which claimed the lives of 12 people – was a Tunisian asylum-seeker with links to Switzerland.
According to a 2016 report on the swissinfo.ch website, almost two million of Switzerland’s 8.3 million people are foreigners – a far higher percentage of immigrants and foreign-born residents than any other country in western Europe. Switzerland has three official languages; Italian in the southern part of the country, French in the west region and German in the northern and central areas. English is also widely spoken. It is a true melting-pot of cultures and races, making it easy for anyone to blend in and, with a little care and common sense, go about their business largely unnoticed.
From Switzerland, one can travel quickly and easily, by rail or road, to Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Germany and France.
The Swiss consider themselves mostly secure from targeting by Islamist terror groups, due to their non-participation in the military struggle to contain ISIS, but their country does offer a number of advantages for groups wishing to use it as a base for organizing and planning terror campaigns across central and western Europe.
The country’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) has been on guard, however, for a number of years and the Swiss work in close collaboration with various international agencies to combat the rising threat of Islamist extremism in Europe.
Whether or not they participate in the front-line fight against jihadist organizations in the Middle East or elsewhere, the nations of Europe have long been a target for such groups; there simply is no opting out of this particular fight. The notion – held by too many people – that “if we leave them alone, they will leave us alone,” does not work. If Switzerland can be embroiled in this conflict, then no country in Europe is immune.