Sandro V. encounters the attacker in a car park in Winterthur. It happens last Friday, shortly before 11 pm. V., who was convicted by the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona last summer as the head of the Winterthur Islamist scene, gets into an argument with the man. During the argument, his opponent attacks him with a cutting weapon, presumably a machete.
Sandro V. is left injured after the attack. He has to be taken to hospital. The attacker, on the other hand, escapes – across the border to Germany. But he is not at large for long. German police arrested the 43-year-old at the weekend. He is said to be a known exponent of the German Islamist scene.
On the German part, the public prosecutor’s office in Constance is conducting the proceedings. Upon request, spokesperson Andreas Mathy says that the 43-year-old is being investigated for dangerous bodily harm. However, pre-trial detention has not been requested in his case. Mathy says: “The man claimed a self-defence situation, which could not be clearly refuted”. Accordingly, there would not have been sufficient reasons for detention. In the meantime, it has also become clear that the alleged perpetrator did not act alone. According to Mathy, another person is being investigated for complicity or aiding and abetting. However, no arrest was made.
The background of the crime is still unclear. According to well-informed persons, it could have been a dispute in the Islamist milieu. Sandro V., who once called himself the “Emir of Winterthur”, has not yet left extreme circles. Last summer, V. had claimed otherwise: during his trial before the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, he testified that he had de-radicalised himself. This had also been confirmed to him in a report by the anti-violence unit of the Zurich cantonal police.
The convert explained himself in court as follows: He used to be a devout Muslim. But the barbaric actions of the IS had made it clear to him that the ideology of the terrorist militia was absolutely wrong.
The court, however, did not believe him. In September 2020, it sentenced the Winterthur resident to 50 months imprisonment. The presiding judge’s ruling was as follows: “He was an almost fanatical follower and supporter of the IS and its predecessor organisation. V. had not only shared the ideology of the terrorist organisation, but had also spread it. Countless pieces of evidence were found on data carriers. All in all, his culpability was severe, especially since there was no discernible awareness of his deeds on his part.
The 34-year-old’s defence lawyer had previously demanded a full acquittal in vain. In the meantime, V. has appealed against the verdict. Therefore, he is currently at large.
It is still not entirely clear how the Winterthur man became radicalised. Former acquaintances described him to the newspaper NZZ as a young guy with a penchant for cars, as someone who smoked a lot of pot and had an attack dog. He is said to have been proud of his Italian origins and the Catholic religion. They tell of a man who could be winning, good-looking, but at the same time seemed somewhat restless.
At the end of the noughties, Sandro V. changed his mind and converted to Islam. In mid-November 2013, he finally travelled to Istanbul and from there to the war zone in Syria in an all-terrain vehicle. Less than a month later, he returned to Switzerland. Thanks to his status as a “returnee”, he gained reputation in the rapidly growing Winterthur Islamist scene. In 2014, together with the Thai boxing world champion Valdet Gashi, he founded the martial arts school MMA Sunna, which has since closed again and is an important meeting place for young Salafists.
The investigations of the Office of the Attorney General also showed that he was in contact with notorious hate preachers such as Bilal Bosnić or Mirsad Omerović. V. spoke of “exclusive contacts” with the radical clerics.
Sandro V.’s name was repeatedly mentioned in connection with jihad travellers who left Switzerland to join the Islamic State in the war zone. Several young men trained at his martial arts school, which was run according to Muslim rules, before they left. That meant no music, no women. Several of these young men later died in Syria and Iraq. In 2016, V. was arrested by the police and spent a year in pre-trial detention. Then he was released under conditions.
The authorities investigated the Winterthur man for years. Last year’s trial was a central case for them. In its indictment, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland made a description of V. as a leading Salafist figure in Switzerland who “held an intermediary position” with radical clerics abroad. The indictment was based on the analysis of telephone calls, chats, pictures and videos as well as on witness statements.