GENEVA - Federal prosecutors in Switzerland on Thursday announced indictments of the leader of a prominent Swiss Islamic group and two other top members over alleged al-Qaida propaganda videos posted on YouTube. Contacted by phone in Bangladesh, one of the suspects rejected the case as "politically motivated."
Attorney General Michael Lauber's office alleges the three members of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland violated Swiss laws banning al-Qaida, Islamic State and associated radical groups. His office and federal police have opened about 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, who is a German citizen, and spokesman Abdel Azziz Qaasim Illi, said Illi in a phone interview. Blancho and Illi are both Swiss citizens, he said. They all remain free.
"Our reaction is the same it has always been: It is a politically motivated act by the state prosecutor," Illi said from Bangladesh, where he was taking part in ICCS efforts to help the Muslim Rohingya minority who have been fleeing violence in neighboring Myanmar by the hundreds of thousands since Aug. 25.
"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."
The case was built around an interview that Cherni conducted in Syria in 2015 with Abdullah al-Muhaysini that has been posted on YouTube. The Saudi militant has been linked to an umbrella organization known as Jaish al-Fatah, or Army of Conquest, which is led by an al-Qaida affiliate. Illi called him a ``rebel leader'' and said links to al-Qaida weren't confirmed.
Illi said authorities had tried and failed to have YouTube remove the interview video.
The attorney general's said it asked the Swiss division of Google Inc. — YouTube's parent company — to delete the interview 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. "This is a political question."
The indictment comes nearly two years after Lauber's office announced an investigation of what was then an unspecified German citizen accused of "having presented his journey to embattled regions of Syria in a video for propaganda purposes, without having explicitly distanced himself from al-Qaida activities in Syria."
In a statement Thursday, the attorney general's office said the videos were supportive of al-Qaida and had been "actively promoted via social media and at a public event" by all three suspects.