Page 2 of 3   <       >

In Neutral Switzerland, A Rising Radicalism

"I'm afraid we are seeing an increase in radicalization in the Netherlands," Joustra said in a telephone interview. "In their search for motivation and their search for reasons to radicalize, they are no longer looking so much at national issues as international ones."

Jacques Pitteloud, a former coordinator of the Swiss intelligence agencies, said that in the past Swiss officials were primarily concerned that outside radical networks might try to use the country as a logistical base to raise money or support operations elsewhere. Most terrorism suspects arrested or questioned after Sept. 11, 2001, were foreigners just passing through.

That has changed recently, he said. Most of the suspects in the Israeli airliner case, for example, are immigrants who were granted Swiss residency.

"We might be facing a new era in homegrown terrorism," said Pitteloud, now the director of the Center for International Security Policy, an arm of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. "We don't feel like we are a primary target, but in the end, Switzerland is a symbol of quite a lot of things that radical Islam hates." Officials worry about attacks on foreign embassies and institutions in the country.

An estimated 350,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, constituting about 5 percent of the population. Swiss officials said they have done a better job integrating foreigners into the population than other European countries and have fewer radical mosques and organizations.

But "we have seen early signs now of anti-Swiss propaganda on the Internet," Pitteloud said. "We have our fair share of radical Islamists, there is no doubt, many of whom we don't know what to do about because many of them are refugees and we can't just kick them out."

Swiss lawmakers are considering a proposal that would allow police and the domestic intelligence service to tap the phones of suspected radicals or access their computers, even if there is no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. A similar measure was rejected last year in the Swiss parliament.

Andreas Wenger, director of the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said the warnings from Swiss intelligence and security services have been slow to register.

"Part of the political spectrum in Switzerland still has the feeling that because we are neutral and not associated with great power politics, that we are less likely to become a target," Wenger said. "The public perception is behind other European countries, most definitely."

Vez, the federal police chief, said domestic spying restrictions have hurt Switzerland's ability to swap counterterrorism intelligence with its allies. "The biggest problem has been the sharing of information with our partners in Europe," he said. "Intelligence-sharing functions like a market. 'If you want something from me, you have to give me something.' "

Switzerland effectively had to build a counterterrorism program from scratch after the Sept. 11 attacks. It keeps a national database of radical suspects, but the watch list is not easily accessible by many police agencies.

In October 2004, Spanish authorities announced that they had broken up a plot by a cell of Moroccan radicals to drive a truck bomb into the National Court building in Madrid. They identified the leader of the cell as Mohammed Achraf, 31, who had sought asylum in Switzerland and been jailed two months earlier in Zurich on minor charges.

<       2        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company