On Tuesday, January 10 2023, the Federal Criminal Court in Switzerland sentenced an individual to 20 years in prison for committing a jihadist homicide in September 2020. For the first time, an individual has been convicted of a jihadist homicide. The sentence includes an institutional therapeutic measure, despite the defendant’s opposition to psychiatric treatment.
Omer, a young Turkish-Swiss radical raised in the Canton of Vaud, was found guilty of murder for stabbing a Portuguese national to death in a restaurant while in the company of his girlfriend. The victim, fatally wounded in the aorta and liver by the long blade of a kitchen knife, died on the spot in front of the horrified eyes of his girlfriend and other customers of the restaurant. The defendant, now 29 years old and diagnosed with schizophrenia, had carried out the attack with the stated intention of avenging the Islamic State and “pleasing God”. His serious mental disorders led the judges to impose a closed facility therapeutic measure.
During his interrogation, the defendant admitted to committing the attack « in the interest of the Islamic State” but stated that he « never pledged allegiance to Daesh » and now considered it a “false group”. He also expressed remorse for his actions and stated that he no longer had any interest in “fighting the Holy war.”
In other words, the crime was committed with the avowed idea of avenging the Islamic State, « pleasing God » and punishing Switzerland.
The prosecution argued against any therapeutic measures, citing the defendant’s history of prior offenses, including an attempted arson at a service station, for which he had served over a year in prison and was released just two months before the murder. The defense argued in favor of the measure, requesting a sentence with an end so that the defendant could have a sense of perspective. The court acknowledged the defendant’s moderately diminished responsibility and the extreme seriousness of the offenses.
In conclusion, the case highlights the need for Western countries to review their post-release monitoring systems to ensure that individuals known to have committed terrorist acts or associated with terrorist organizations are not able to act again. This is a crucial issue of democratic concern, and one that society should not have to live with.
This is not the first time that a person with a history of extremist activities has been able to carry out violent attacks despite being known to the authorities.
This highlights the importance of having a robust and effective system in place for monitoring and rehabilitating individuals who have been convicted of terrorist offenses. It also highlights the importance of addressing the underlying issues that lead to radicalization, such as poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunities, which are often the drivers of extremism.
Between a laxity of the authorities or the absence of a follow-up after a conviction, a democratic problem arises.
Moreover, the case also raises questions about the role of mental illness in terrorist acts and the need for a better understanding of the link between mental health and extremism. While it is clear that mental illness alone cannot explain the motivations behind a terrorist act, it is important to recognize that individuals with serious mental disorders may be more susceptible to extremist ideologies and may require specialized treatment and support.
In order to effectively combat terrorism and prevent future attacks, it is essential that western countries adopt a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach that addresses the complex issues surrounding radicalization and terrorism. This includes not only effective monitoring and rehabilitation for convicted individuals, but also addressing underlying issues such as poverty and lack of education and investing in mental health support and research.
Our role in a democracy is first to prevent such hatred from spreading against our system through education and to forgive the convicts who make a sincere repentance and reintegrate them into society. Firm condemnation is required for these acts. But so is forgiveness.
Claiming life imprisonment or the death penalty are not solutions to this type of problem. If they were, it is our democracy that will be defeated by the terrorists.