Swiss revoke asylum status for Libyan ‘hate preacher’
By Joseph Hammond
A Libyan Muslim preacher accused of using hate speech at a mosque in Switzerland has lost his right to asylum in that country following a recent court ruling.
In a covertly recorded audio clip, Salah Ramadan al-Fituri ben Salem – more commonly known as Abu Ramadan – calls for the “ [destruction] of the enemies of our religion. Destroy the Jews, the hateful Christians, the Hindus, the Russians and the disobedient Shiites.” The recording was allegedly made at the Ar’Rahman mosque in Bern, Switzerland – where Abu Ramadan worked as a prayer leader.
His remarks sparked controversy in that famously neutral European country. Swiss authorities determined that Abu Ramadan apparently violated his refugee status last year when returned to Libya for over a month. A return to one’s country of origin is usually seen as a violation of refugee status. Abu Ramadan does not deny his recent trips to Libya. Ramadan says he took 12 trips to his African homeland since 2013 to visit his ailing mother.
Despite the ruling experts say Abu Ramadan may still be able to stay in Switzerland by applying for a different residency status.
Abu Ramadan has lived in Switzerland for nearly 20 years and allegedly collected over 600,000 Swiss Francs in unemployment benefits during this period according to the Swiss media. That sum is equivalent to roughly $602,000 or an annual salary of $31,000.
While Abu Ramadan says he has criticized Israel and Zionism in his speeches he believes the clandestine recording uses remarks taken out of context. He has pledged to sue the translator and also denies receiving over 600,000 Swiss Francs in benefits. The Swiss media outlets stand by their translations.
“The scandal is so huge that it is hard to believe it,” wrote Adrian Amstutz, a parliamentarian with the Swiss People’s Party in an article published on his party’s website, “I rubbed my eyes and wondered why we need journalists and a radio show to expose such misdeeds when we have an intelligence service that is supposed to deal with such dangerous individuals.”
Amstutz questions how Abu Ramadan was able to collect welfare funds from the Swiss government while preaching hate against other religions and ethnicities.
Abu Ramadan’s lack of language skills made him eligible for unemployment benefits after fleeing Qaddafi’s Libya for Switzerland. According to Swiss state-media though he speaks some English he has only a rudimentary knowledge of German and French. French, German, and Italian are the official national languages of the Switzerland.
Abu Ramadan has also made appearances on the Islamist leaning Libyan television channel Tasunah according.
Libyan analyst Randall Stickley says that cases like this should serve as a wake-up call for authorities in Europe. This is not the first time Libyan immigrants have been linked to extremism in Europe in recent months. Randall pointed out that the Manchester Bombing this summer also had a Libyan connection.
Though Manchester bomber Salman Ramadan Abedi was born in the United Kingdom his family were recent immigrants from Libya.
“This case is indicative of the need for better vetting migrants to Europe. Especially in the current context where many immigrants are coming to Europe, it can be hard to pinpoint bad actors and who is in favor of such extremism,” Stickley said.
Saïda Keller-Messahli, a Swiss-Tunisian countering violent extremism expert believes Abu Ramadan is a dangerous figure. “This is someone who does not call directly for jihad but creates the mental breeding ground for it,” she said in an interview with a Swiss media outlet.
Abu Ramadan is not related to Tariq Ramadan, the famed Egyptian-Swiss Muslim scholar, known for his call for dialogue between the Islamic world and the West.