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'Emir of Winterthur' convicted in Swiss jihadist trial

ZURICH (Reuters) - A man dubbed the “Emir of Winterthur” by Swiss media, described by prosecutors as a leading figure among Islamist militants in Switzerland, was sentenced to 50 months in prison on Friday for supporting and recruiting for Islamic State.

Prosecutors said the 34-year-old Swiss-Italian dual citizen had travelled to Islamic State-controlled areas of Syria in 2013, where he joined a combat unit aligned to the militant group.

Upon returning to Switzerland, he capitalised on his reputation as a warrior to motivate several people to join Islamic State, prosecutors said. They called him “a Salafist guiding figure in Switzerland” who liaised with several convicted Islamic State recruiters in Europe.

The defendant, whose identity was not made public under Swiss legal rules, pleaded not guilty but was convicted of supporting a criminal organisation and violating a ban on representations of acts of violence, the Federal Criminal Court said.

Broadcaster SRF said the man had told the court he had briefly embraced jihadist ideology but had since had a change of heart and regretted the episode. He said he had travelled to Syria to provide humanitarian assistance.

Winterthur is the suburb of Zurich where he lived and ran a training gym.

The court also levied a suspended 4,000 Swiss franc ($4,400) fine on a second defendant with Swiss-Macedonian dual citizenship, who was convicted of supporting a criminal organisation. Prosecutors said he tried to travel to Islamic State-held territory to join the organisation, and recruited one other person to join it.

Switzerland has not experienced deadly militant attacks such as those that have hit neighbouring countries including Germany and France. But it has identified hundreds of residents deemed a threat and militants who have travelled to war zones.

Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff