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Woman on trial over rare 'jihadist' attack in Switzerland

GENEVA (AFP) - In a rare case of alleged Islamist "terrorism" in Switzerland, a woman will go on trial next week over a brutal knife attack on two shoppers at an upscale department store.

The woman, who cannot be named, allegedly tried to slit the throats of two women shopping at the Manor store in Lugano, in Switzerland's southern, Italian-speaking Ticino region on November 24, 2020.

The defendant, 28 at the time, is suspected of committing a "jihadist knife attack" and had "intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS" (the Islamic State group), the attorney general's office said earlier this year.

When her trial opens at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, near Lugano, on Monday, she will face charges of attempted murder and violating laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related groups.

Random victims

On the day of the attack, the woman is accused of having gone to Manor's kitchen supply division on the fifth floor, picked out a large bread knife, and approached a random woman standing nearby.

Grabbing her from behind, the assailant plunged the knife at least 10 centimetres (3.9 inches) into her throat, missing her main carotid artery "by a few millimetres", the indictment said.

As she screamed "Allahu akbar" (God is greatest) and "I will avenge the Prophet Mohammed", she struck the victim to the ground, and then moved on to a second woman, stabbing the knife towards her face and shouting "I am here for IS".

The second woman suffered defensive wounds to her right hand, but managed with help from others to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

"The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness," prosecutors said, maintaining that she had acted "with the aim of killing (her victims) and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the 'Islamic State'."

Mental health problems

Police quickly discovered the alleged assailant had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

After "falling in love" over social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria, she had attempted in 2017 to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, but was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, it is alleged.

Upon her return, she was deemed to have mental health problems. She was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and fell off the security police radar until the attack three years later, police said.

The alleged assailant had reportedly once been married to a Muslim asylum seeker and had converted to Islam.

The trial is expected to last through Sept 5, followed by a verdict two weeks later.

'Very rare'

Experts said next week's trial marks a rare event, pointing out that such attacks are almost unheard of in the wealthy Alpine country.

Switzerland has never experienced a large-scale terror attack, though it did suffer two other individual knife attacks in 2020 by people with suspected jihadist ties.

"In Switzerland, it's been very random and very rare that we have people that conduct terrorist attacks," Christina Schori Liang, a terrorism expert at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, said.

It is even rarer that the alleged jihadist attacker is a woman.

"IS has never claimed an attack carried out by a woman," Damien Ferre, founder of the Jihad Analytics group which analyses global and cyber jihad, said.

While there were reports of women carrying out attacks in the battle for Mosul in Iraq in 2004, he stressed that "it was never proven and the group did not communicate about it".

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