Swiss authorities confirmed on Wednesday that two men arrested near Zurich were “obviously friends” of a gunman who killed four people in a shooting rampage in Vienna and said police were investigating the full extent of their relationship with him.
Austrian police shot dead the gunman soon after he opened fire on Monday night on crowded bars in the city center. They identified him as Kujtim Fejzulai, 20, a convicted extremist who had dual Austrian and North Macedonian nationality.
Swiss police arrested two men, aged 18 and 24, on Tuesday in the town of Winterthur, which has become a focus of concern about “Islamist” radicalism in recent years. Austrian police have arrested 14 people as they try to establish whether Fejzulai had any accomplices.
Swiss Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter, in a panel discussion shown on the St. Galler Tagblatt newspaper’s website, said the two arrested men were “obviously friends” of the gunman. She said they had met “in person” but did not say when.
“The suspect in Vienna and the two men who were arrested in Winterthur knew each other,” a spokesman for Keller-Sutter’s ministry told Reuters in an email on Wednesday. “Authorities are investigating in close coordination the nature of their relationship.”
Both men, whose names have not been released, are already the subject of two criminal cases being prosecuted by the Swiss attorney general’s office (OAG) and which were opened in 2018 and 2019, the Swiss attorney general’s told Reuters in an email. The older man is a suspect in one of those cases.
Winterthur, once a prominent industrial center about 20 kilometers from the border with Germany, was the site of a now-shuttered mosque that officials said had attracted preachers who espoused “hate speech.”
Several young people from the Winterthur area who were linked to the mosque travelled to Syria to fight with ISIS terrorist group. Membership and support of the militant group is outlawed in Switzerland.
In September, a man Swiss media dubbed the “Emir of Winterthur” and described as a leading “Islamist” militant in Switzerland, was sentenced to 50 months in prison for ties to ISIS.
Switzerland has largely been spared extremist violence, but authorities are concerned that the kind of attacks seen in neighboring France, Germany and now Austria could also occur on Swiss territory.
The OAG said on Wednesday that a fatal stabbing of a Portuguese man in September in the town of Morges, in western Switzerland, was still being investigated for a possible “terrorist motive.”
A Swiss-Turkish national has been arrested.