ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland’s NDB intelligence service ratcheted up scrutiny of asylum requests for signs of Islamist militancy last year as it sought to better identify refugees who pose a threat, a government report showed on Tuesday.
NDB agents reviewed 5,202 asylum dossiers for possible threats to Swiss internal security, from the pool of 27,200 people who submitted asylum requests last year, the report said.
The NDB recommended rejecting 14 of those cases, as well as stripping refugee status from one other person who had already been granted asylum.
That compared with 4,910 dossiers being reviewed in 2015, from 39,500 asylum requests. Of 24,000 asylum requests in 2014, the Swiss intelligence service reviewed only 2,488 files.
The report, by a multi-agency task force called Tetra formed in 2014 to address “jihad travellers” moving between Switzerland and the Middle East, concluded that Switzerland remains an target for militants despite so far avoiding attacks like those in Germany and France.
“The most likely threat for our country are attacks that require little logistical planning and are carried out by lone attackers or small groups,” the report concluded.
Overall, asylum requests in Switzerland are trending downward after authorities closed the Balkan land route used by thousands to flee hot spots in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Requests are forecast to fall to about 24,500 this year.
Through 2016, the NDB had identified 497 Internet users it said were spreading extremist propaganda online. Of 70 total cases being investigated by federal police, the report said, about 60 are the subjects of a criminal proceeding.
Additionally, 81 people motivated by extremist ideologies had travelled from Switzerland to conflict areas including Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001 through February, up from 78 a month earlier.
Twenty-two of those have been killed or are believed to be dead, the report said, while 14 have returned to Switzerland.
Last year, Swiss voters approved extending the national spy service’s authority to monitor Internet traffic, deploy drones and hack foreign computer systems, in large part to counter extremist threats.
The government is reviewing whether an update is needed to require employees of private companies who manage asylum cases to report clients’ possible extremist behaviour to authorities.
Editing by Louise Ireland