Alperen A. grew up in Arbon on Lake Constance, in a family of Turkish origin. At the age of 4, he is naturalised by the Thurgau parliament – together with his parents. That was on May 27, 1998, at a time when Islamism was hardly an issue in Switzerland.
Today Alperen is 27 years old – and he is to lose his Swiss citizenship because the federal authorities consider him a danger to Switzerland. On Tuesday, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) announced in the Federal Gazette that it was initiating the procedure to revoke his citizenship.
First naturalisation and two decades later denaturalisation: something like this almost never happens in Switzerland.
At that time, in the distant year of 1998, the members of the A. family seemed to be perfectly integrated in Thurgau. His father is a machine fitter, his mother a medical assistant, and Alperen is also following the path that young people take in Switzerland: He completes an apprenticeship as a logistics specialist, goes to parties and referees for FC Steinach. But at some point Alperen discovers radical Islam.Alperen grows a beard, becomes a Muslim missionary in southern Germany and Switzerland, distributing Korans in eastern Swiss towns as part of the controversial mission campaign “Read! The True Religion”. In 2013, when he is 20 years old, he marries a German woman who converted to Islam shortly before at a “Read!” stand in Stuttgart.Although his young wife was pregnant, Alperen left Arbon in 2014 – he was now 21 years old – to join the jihad in Syria. In Whatsapp messages he announces that he wants to “cut off the heads of infidels”. And he threatens that at some point he and his comrades-in-arms will also “conquer” Switzerland and Germany, as the public broadcaster SRF’s “Rundschau” programme reported in a report in 2015.In Syria, Alperen joined the Nusra Front, the regional Al-Qaeda offshoot. What exactly he had been doing there is still unclear. According to an article in the newspaper NZZ, he even considered a martyrdom as a suicide bomber. In autumn 2014, his heavily pregnant wife follows him to Syria. Apparently she wants to bring her husband back, but instead she is forced to stay in Syria herself: Her own husband is detaining her against her will. In March 2015, she gives birth in the middle of the war zone; only later does her husband allow her to leave for Turkey.Alperen’s activities in Syria also called the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland into action: in 2014, it opened criminal proceedings and has since been looking for him on the basis of an international arrest warrant. The suspicions range from belonging to an Islamist terrorist organisation to hostage-taking.
Alperen himself was arrested in Turkey in 2016 – and is still in a Turkish prison, according to the latest information available. By withdrawing his citizenship, the federal government now wants to ensure that he will never be able to return to Switzerland later on.
Because his current whereabouts are officially unknown, the SEM had to publish the decision in the Federal Gazette. Alperen A. now has one month to comment. If he learns of the threatened revocation of his citizenship at all, he can appeal it to the Federal Administrative Court.It is extremely rare for the Swiss Confederation to take away a Swiss citizen’s right to citizenship. During and after the Second World War, Switzerland denaturalised around eighty Nazis. From 1947 to 2019, there was not a single denaturalisation. But then, under the aegis of Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter, the Justice Department rediscovered an old legal paragraph and began to apply it systematically to jihad travellers.
However, a prerequisite for denaturalisation is that the person concerned still holds another citizenship. If they only have one citizenship, this may not be withdrawn – this is a principle of international law.Alperen A. also has Turkish citizenship.
Alperen is the fifth jihadist against whom the Swiss Confederation has initiated such proceedings, but only one has been successfully completed:
- In 2020, Sahila F. was legally expatriated – the first Swiss woman to be expatriated since 1947. The 31-year-old woman from Vaud abducted her own daughters to Syria and still lives in a camp there.
- In 2019, the SEM also wanted to revoke the passport of Ümit Y. from Lugano after he was convicted by the Federal Criminal Court for belonging to IS. But the Turkish-Swiss dual citizen has challenged the decision to revoke his passport at the Federal Administrative Court. His case is pending there.
- The SEM also initiated revocation proceedings against the Spanish-Swiss jihadist Daniel D., but had to discontinue them in June 2020. The reason: Spain had beaten Switzerland to the punch and expatriated D. more quickly.
- The SEM also suspended the expatriation of the Italian-Swiss Christian I. from Winterthur, who died in Syria.
According to its own information, the State Secretariat for Migration is currently examining the withdrawal of citizenship in about a dozen other cases.