Swiss authorities have decided to let returning an Islamic State jihadist back into Switzerland with a slap on the wrist.
The threat posed by returning jihadists has deeply concerned Western intelligence and law-enforcement agencies due to worries they may launch terror attacks in their home countries.
Just last week, France’s Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve warned that the threat of an attack by returning jihadists was real and that Europeans needed to mobilize against it.
In France, “there are operations, arrests …every day to avoid it happening,” he said.,” Cazeneuve said after a meeting with of European Union (EU) interior ministers in Brussels to discuss the jihadist threat.
Nonetheless, Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber ordered that a 30-year-old recent convert to Islam from the western Swiss canton of Vaud work 600 hours of community service instead of receiving jail time. Switzerland is not an EU member. The jihadist must receive psychiatric care in addition to performing community service.
The man, whose identity has not been released, left for Syria in December 2013 and stayed in a training camp for two weeks before having second thoughts. The Islamic State held him prisoner for 54 days before releasing him and allowing him to return to Switzerland.
Switzerland’s Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) says 55 of its citizens have left to fight for jihadist groups since 2001. Of them, 31 left to fight in Iraq or Syria while 24 traveled to Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Somalia.
Switzerland is not alone Europe in taking a lenient approach to returning jihadists. Danish authorities similarly have adopted an approach emphasizing rehabilitation rather than punishment.
This policy continues despite the fact more Danish citizens have traveled to fight in Syria per capita than anywhere else in Europe. Denmark’s second largest city, Aarhus, has welcomed returning jihadists back.
Rather than face arrest, returning Danish jihadists receive free psychological counseling and help finding jobs or university admission. Police in Aarhus have also set up routine meetings this year with a mosque which had connections with approximately 30 jihadists who went to fight in Syria.
“In 2013, we had 30 young people go to Syria,” Jorgen Ilum, Aarhus’s police commissioner, told the Washington Post in October. “This year, to my knowledge, we have had only one.”