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Swiss Islamist Terror Threat ‘Unprecedented’

The imminence and severity of the terror threat currently facing Switzerland by Islamic jihadists is without precedent, according to Jean-Paul Rouiller, the creator of the counterterrorism unit of the Swiss Federal Judicial Police (PJF).

“To my knowledge, and after twenty years of experience in intelligence and counterterrorism, this is the first time I have seen such a serious threat in Switzerland,” said Rouiller. “We live a very peculiar time.”

“One thing is clear. Switzerland and especially Geneva is threatened. And this threat is related to the Islamic State group,” he said.

“We now have confirmation that our fears were well founded,” he said.

Rouiller’s words follow on a special terror alert issued in Geneva Thursday, and the manhunt for four individuals believed to be connected to the Paris jihadist attacks of November 13.

“We have gone from a vague threat to a specific threat,” said Emmanuelle Lo Verso, communications officer at the Department of Security and Economy (EHR). “The number of patrols has been increased because we are in a very active phase of the search,” she said.

“The threat was still unclear last week, but I was informed with the police on Wednesday afternoon by the Confederation that certain factors have made the threat more concrete,” said Pierre Maudet, head of the EHR. “As part of investigations following the Paris attacks, both internationally and nationally, the Geneva police and its partners are actively looking for people whose description was provided by the Confederation.”

Photos of the four men suspected of links to the Islamic State have been circulated among police and other security officials, along with warnings that the men could be armed and dangerous.

For the first time, on Thursday morning, police armed with machine guns were stationed outside international headquarters of the United Nations.

In a statement, the Department of State Security said that Wednesday afternoon they had “received reports of suspects who may be in Geneva or in the vicinity,” and that investigations are being conducted “in close collaboration with national and international services.”

Police are also aware that a commercial vehicle registered in Belgium and carrying two men entered Swiss territory on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday. The van was spotted in Geneva before leaving Switzerland.

Though specifics have not been made public, a warning was sent to members of the Jewish community of Geneva with a description of the vehicle and instructions to alert authorities immediately if the vehicle is seen.

“Safety remains a priority as always. The novelty today is that the alert is local,” said Johanne Gurfinkiel, general secretary of Intercommunitary Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD).

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome

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