Friday, September 17

Please Give Bush the Authority to Attack Switzerland

Swiss Secrecy May Be a Lure for Al Qaeda

BERN, Switzerland - The trail began in the desert mayhem of Saudi Arabia and led to a suspected militant Islamic network operating in the Alpine tranquillity of Switzerland.

It started with a Saudi investigation into the May 2003 suicide attacks on three expatriate housing compounds in Riyadh by Al Qaeda that killed 26.

Investigators recovered a suspect's cellphone and made a startling discovery: The memory contained 36 Swiss numbers. And one of them belonged to an alleged Yemeni extremist based in the pristine village of Aegerten, an area known more for clockmakers than for terrorists.

The unlikely setting shows how extremists establish footholds in whatever corner of the world they can.

In some ways, Switzerland does not seem a hospitable base for the Al Qaeda terrorist network. The country lacks the big cities and vast Muslim neighborhoods of neighboring nations. It does not belong to the borderless European Union, making entry and exit more complicated.

Nonetheless, that banking system remains a magnet for the global underworld: Swiss prosecutors are pursuing two massive investigations of wealthy Arabs accused of financing Islamic extremists through Swiss bank accounts. And street-level militants know that, like other small European nations with traditions of tolerance and neutrality, Switzerland has generous political asylum laws, strong protections for criminal defendants and an ingrained respect for privacy.