GENEVA: Police in Geneva on Thursday raised the alert level and searched the city for several suspected jihadists believed to have links to the Islamic State (IS) group, officials said.
The security services in the Canton of Geneva said they had received information on Wednesday from Swiss federal authorities about suspicious individuals in the Geneva area.
The Tribune de Geneve newspaper, in an unconfirmed report, said the intelligence originally came from the United States.
“We went from a vague threat to a specific threat,” Geneva security spokeswoman Emmanuelle Lo Verso said, adding that police were “actively searching” for the suspects.
The office of Switzerland’s top prosecutor said in a statement it had opened a probe into “a terrorist threat in the Geneva region,” targeting unnamed individuals over possible support for banned groups, including “Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.”
The statement said the probe was opened on Wednesday and that federal authorities were coordinating with their Gene-va counterparts.
“The main goal is to prevent a terrorist event,” it added.
The searches, though apparently not linked to last month’s deadly attacks in Paris, came amid widening efforts across Europe to hunt possible IS supporters.
In Brussels on Thursday, European Union lawmakers backed plans to track airline passenger names as part of efforts to prevent a repeat of the Paris violence, some of whose perpetrators traveled freely across Europe before the carnage.
And in Britain, which applauded the passenger tracking plan, new Home Office data showed that the number of terror suspects apprehended has reached a record high, with 315-terror-related arrests in the year to September — an increase of a third over the preceding 12 months.
UN HQ searched
In Geneva, which is almost entirely enclosed by France, authorities said the search for possible extremists was being conducted “in the context of the investigation following the Paris attacks.”
But multiple sources, who requested anonymity, said there did not appear to be a direct link with the coordinated November 13 gun and suicide bombing attacks that left 130 dead.
A security source at the United Nations in Geneva told AFP that four people were being sought over possible ties to IS, which claimed the Paris atrocities and has vowed further strikes.
The UN source said the Palais des Nations — the agency’s European headquarters — was evacuated on Wednesday night as security personnel conducted office-to-office searches.
Security guards posted at the UN gates were also carrying sub-machine guns on Thursday, a departure from normal practice.
Geneva’s government said police had “increased their level of vigilance” with reinforcements sent to key locations including the airports and the headquarters of the many international organizations based in the Swiss city.
But there did not appear to be a massive mobilization of security personnel across the city, according to AFP journalists.
Searches in France
Police in the two French regions bordering Geneva — Ain and Haute-Savoie — told AFP that controls had been beefed up at all crossings.
Meanwhile, in France, a man was detained Thursday after weapons were discovered in his home in a continuation of the rolling searches seen since a state of emergency was imposed after the bloodshed in Paris.
Officials in the Drome region said the suspect was found during a traffic stop in possession of a picture of Salah Abdeslam, the key Paris suspect who remains at large.
Police in the area reportedly knew the individual over previous incidents of low-level criminality.
Meanwhile in Switzerland, which is often known for its tranquility, local media were giving rapid updates of the search, with the country having been spared the extremist-related incidents that have hit elsewhere in the continent.
Switzerland last month said it had active criminal proceedings against 33 individuals over suspected ties to extremist Islamist groups, but only three people were in custody.
The most serious case involves a cell of possible Islamist radicals uncovered in the Canton of Schaffhausen, near the German border, last year.