Swiss stabbing suspect linked to 2017 terrorism inquiry

Police in front of the Manor department store after a knife attack in Piazza Dante, Switzerland, on Nov 24, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

GENEVA (AFP) - A woman arrested for a knife attack in a Swiss department store was linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation and spent time in a psychiatric clinic, police said on Wednesday (Nov 25).

The 28-year-old was held on Tuesday after allegedly trying to strangle one woman with her bare hands and stabbing another in the neck. The second victim in the attack, in Lugano in southern Switzerland, was said to be seriously wounded.

"The perpetrator is known to @FedpolCH," the federal police said on Twitter. "She appeared in a police investigation in 2017 in connection with jihadism."

Police had discovered at the time that the woman had formed a relationship on social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria. She had attempted to travel to Syria to meet the man, but was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and was sent back to Switzerland.

"The woman was suffering from mental health problems," police said, adding that she had been admitted to a psychiatric clinic. She had not been on the radar of the federal police since then, the tweet said.

During Tuesday's incident, the woman was overpowered by customers in the shop before officers arrived. The regional police later mentioned a possible terror motive behind the attack.

"The situation is extremely serious," said Norman Gobbi, head of the Ticino regional government.

The Swiss federal police said criminal proceedings were under way.

"This attack does not surprise me," federal police chief Nicoletta della Valle said on Tuesday, underlining that such attacks occurred all over the world.

Switzerland has never suffered a major jihadist attack, but police and officials highlighted several recent incidents being investigated for possible terrorist motives.

And two Swiss nationals aged 18 and 24 were arrested near Zurich due to their alleged links to the perpetrator of a deadly attack in neighbouring Austria's capital Vienna earlier this month.

After Tuesday's incident, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz tweeted that he condemned the "Islamist terrorist attack" in Lugano.

"We stand with Switzerland in these difficult hours," he wrote. "We'll give a joint response to Islamist terrorism in Europe and defend our values."

An Islamic State sympathiser who had tried to join the extremist group in Syria was behind the attack in Vienna, in which four people were killed and several others injured.

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