Radical Muslim groups are using Switzerland as a base from which to promote Islamic jihad in Europe and beyond.
Islamists in Switzerland are providing jihadists with logistical support, and also stepping up their use of Internet websites there to spread Islamic propaganda as well as to incite their supporters to commit acts of terrorism and violence.
Swiss authorities have identified at least 10 trips by Islamists from Switzerland to jihadi training camps overseas just during the past 12 months.
One finding of Swiss Federal Police Annual Report for 2011 (in German), published in Bern on June 21, is that although Switzerland was not a direct target of Islamic terrorism in 2011, the Swiss Federal Police Office, also known Fedpol, did investigate a Swiss convert to Islam who used the Internet to discuss a terrorist attack involving explosives against an American installation in Germany. Although the report does not provide further details about the investigation, it states that the suspect's being Swiss proved that "not only people with immigrant backgrounds could be supporters of jihad."
In response to the rising threat from radical Islam, Fedpol, recently launched a new specialist IT research department to intensify efforts to monitor jihadist websites and their operators. Fedpol also strengthened its cooperation with the Swiss Federal Intelligence Services.
In a related move, the Swiss Federal Justice Ministry on June 30 announced that Switzerland has refused to take back a Jordanian refugee who, after he was found to have links to Islamist rebels in Somalia, had been given asylum.
The refugee, 19-year-old Magd Najjar, had been caught in May and charged in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 6 for links to Islamist Al-Shabaab rebels affiliated with al-Qaeda, and who openly state that they want to impose Islamic Sharia law in Somalia.
"Clear evidence shows that he visited regions of Somalia where jihadist groups are involved in conflict (against the government). It also appears that he had contact with Islamist elements in Switzerland," the Justice Ministry said in a statement.
Swiss law states that refugees can lose their asylum status if they threaten or compromise national or international security.
Separately, leading Islamic groups in Switzerland say they want to establish a single national representative body that will enable all of the country's Muslims to "speak with one voice."
The organizers say their new "parliament" will be called "Umma Schweiz" [The Islamic Nation in Switzerland"] and be based on the principles of Islamic Sharia law. The headquarters of the organization will be located in Basel with "representatives" in all 26 cantons (or "states") of Switzerland. The first "test vote" of Umma Schweiz will be held in the fall of 2012; the group will be fully functional in 2013.
Ummah, an Arabic word that means "nation," refers to the entire Muslim community throughout the world. In recent years, Muslims have stepped up efforts to unify the globally fragmented ummah in an effort to revive an Islamic Caliphate or empire. Many Muslim scholars view the political unification of the ummah as a prerequisite to the consolidation of global Muslim power and the subsequent establishment of an Islamic world order.
Swiss analysts say the initiative is an effort to establish a "parallel" legislative body in Switzerland that will be a mouthpiece for Islamic fundamentalists, who are seeking to impose Sharia law on the country, according to an exposé published by the newspaper Basler Zeitung.
"Umma Schweiz" is being spearheaded by two of the leading Muslim groups in Switzerland: the Coordination of Islamic Organizations of Switzerland (KIOS), led by an Iranian; and the Federation of Islamic Umbrella Organizations in Switzerland (FIDS), led by a Palestinian.
The effort to unify Muslims in Switzerland comes amid calls by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to establish an umbrella organization for all Swiss Muslims to counter discrimination.
The OSCE, which sent three observers to Switzerland in November 2011, warned that Muslims in the country are being exploited by "the extreme right and populist parties." The OSCE also noted that Muslims in Switzerland are increasingly unifying around their religious identity, according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. "Groups like Bosnians and Albanians, who were previously defined by their ethnicity, are now identified by their religion," the OSCE report says.
Currently, there are more than 300 Muslim associations in Switzerland, and several umbrella organizations, but none is regarded as representative of Muslims as a whole.
The Muslim population in Switzerland has more than quintupled since 1980; it now numbers about 400,000, or roughly 5% of the population. Most Muslims living in Switzerland are of Turkish or Balkan origin, with a smaller minority from the Arab world. Many of them are second- and third-generation immigrants firmly establishing themselves in Switzerland.
The new Muslim demographic reality is raising tensions across large parts of Swiss society, especially as Muslims become more assertive in their demands for greater recognition of their Islamic faith.
In January 2012, another Swiss Muslim group, the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (IZRS), announced that it was trying to raise money from countries in the Persian Gulf to build a 20-million franc ($21 million) mega-mosque in Bern.
With three floors, the planned mosque would be the biggest in Switzerland. In addition to a prayer room for more than 500 worshippers, the building would have conference and training rooms, shops, underground parking and a garden.
Swiss citizens have been pushing back against the rise of Islam in their country. In November 2009, for example, Switzerland held referendum in which citizens approved an initiative to insert a new sentence in the Swiss constitution stipulating that "the construction of minarets is forbidden."
The initiative to ban minarets was approved 57.5% to 42.5% by some 2.67 million voters. Only four of Switzerland's 26 cantons or states opposed the initiative, thereby granting the double approval that now makes the minaret ban part of the Swiss constitution. The minaret ban represented a turning point in the debate about Islam in Switzerland.
In a related victory for free speech in Switzerland, the Swiss Federal Court in Lausanne on May 21 ruled that a citizens group called Movement against the Islamization of Switzerland (SBGI) has the legal right to set up information booths in Swiss cities and distribute literature that is critical of Islam.
The City of Freiburg had prevented the group from setting up an information booth because it said that by doing so it would provoke violence and unrest.
The Federal Court upheld SBGI's complaint that the authorities had impinged on its freedom of expression as well as on freedom of information. Although Swiss law does grant local authorities powers to ban demonstrations from public spaces, the court confirmed that they may not do so simply because they disapprove of the ideas being communicated.
Soeren Kern is Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook.