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Islamic Council leaders sentenced for jihadist propaganda

A Swiss court has handed down fines and suspended prison sentences to two board members of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS) for jihadist propaganda following a retrial.

The Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona gave Islamic council president Nicolas Blancho and its spokesman Qaasim Illi suspended sentences of 18 and 15 months respectively. They were each fined CHF500 ($550).

The two men were retried after Switzerland’s Federal Court overturned in March the ICCS officials’ earlier acquittal for terrorist propaganda.

Blancho and Illi had been accused of broadcasting propaganda videos in support of the terrorist group al-Qaeda. But they were acquitted in 2018 by the Federal Criminal Court on a technicality. The author of the films, Naïm Cherni, was given a 20-month suspended prison sentence.   

The Federal Court in Lausanne then overturned the acquittals of Blancho and Illi, saying the lower court had erred through “excessive formalism”.

The men were charged in relation to an interview by Cherni in Syria in 2015 with a leading member of al-Qaeda. Films of the interview were subsequently used as propaganda for the al-Qaeda member concerned, according to the indictment. Two videos were published on YouTube. 

In the October retrial, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General requested conditional prison sentences of 24 and 20 months for Blancho and Illi.

The two men were not present on Tuesday for the pronouncement of the sentence.

The ICCS describes itself as the country’s largest Islamic organisation and says it focuses on representing the local population. However, its 3,000 members make up less than 1% of the estimated 400,000 Muslims in Switzerland.