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Swiss prosecutors indict heads of Islamic group

Federal prosecutors in Switzerland are indicting the leaders of a Swiss Islamic group over alleged al-Qaida propaganda videos on YouTube. If convicted, the accused could face up to five years in prison.

Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber's office said on Thursday that the three members of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) had violated Swiss laws that ban al-Qaida, so-called "Islamic State" and radical groups linked to them.

Lauber's office and federal police have so far opened 60 cases linked to alleged "jihadi-motivated terrorism," mostly involving propaganda.

The indictments target ICCS president, Nicolas Blancho, the group's cultural production chief Naim Cherni, a German citizen, and spokesman Abdel Azziz Qaasim Illi. Blancho and Illi are both Swiss citizens. All remain free.

Trial by YouTube

The case centres on an interview Cherni conducted in Syria in 2015 with Abdullah al-Muhaysini (pictured above) - an Islamic cleric with connections to the terrorist group al Qaeda that was posted on YouTube.

Illi called Abdullah al-Muhaysini a "rebel leader" and said links to al-Qaida weren't confirmed.

The attorney general said it had asked the Swiss division of Google - YouTube's parent company - to take the interview down two years ago and said it was "annoying" that it remained online.

"It is not in our power to delete it. It would be desirable if this were to change, particularly in the case of criminal proceedings such as this," Lauber's office wrote in an email to the AP news agency. "This is a political question."

In a statement on Thursday, his office said the videos were supportive of al Qaeda and had been "actively promoted via social media and at a public event" by all three suspects.

Accused deny links

"Our reaction is the same it has always been: It is a politically motivated act by the state prosecutor," Illi told the Associated Press from Bangladesh, where he was taking part in ICCS efforts to help the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

"They know their case is weak," Illi said of the prosecutors. Referring to ICCS, he added: "They are trying to defame the famous Islamic organization."

lli told French news agency AFP that the attorney general was "pushed by an Islamophobic social wave (and) is trying to defame Switzerland's largest Islamic grassroots organization by its fabricated claim."

He said the ICCS had nearly 4,000 members, representing about one percent of Muslims in Switzerland.

Blancho - who converted to Islam aged 16 - has in the past denied being tied to extremism.

jbh/rc (AP, AFP)

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