The Swiss Nicolas Blancho: a fake crank, a true pro-Qatar Islamist

Ian Hamel (*)

Who is the Islamist in Switzerland who has monopolized the media most in the last decade? Tariq Ramadan, suspected of rape, or his brother Hani, director of the Geneva Islamic Center, and a strong advocate of stoning? Not at all, it is Nicolas Blancho, a 36-year-old convert with a long bushy red beard, chairman of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (CCIS), a structure whose true audience it is difficult to assess.

Although his father was French, Nicolas Blancho’s notoriety in Europe has not (yet) exceeded the borders of the Confederation. Born in Bienne, a bilingual city in the canton of Berne, the man does not really have the profile of a brilliant intellectual. In his first interviews in 2010, he admits that he was bored at school, and that he did not complete an apprenticeship as a printer. At the age of 16, he converted to Islam. His readings guide him towards fundamentalist thinkers, Ibn Tamiyya, Sayyed Qutb, Al-Mawdhudi. Very quickly, the Alemannic press, particularly the Weltwoche, demonized him by presenting him as “Bin Laden of Bienne”, “the most dangerous Islamist in the country” (1).
Yet Nicolas Blancho’s first actions would place him more in the category of the cranks. With its inflatable minaret at a CCIS congress, the distribution of yellow eight-pointed stars bearing the inscription “Muslim”, and stickers associating Islamophobia with the Holocaust, because “Muslims in Switzerland are subjected to discrimination comparable to the one endured by the Jews before the Shoah”. His announcements about the construction of a mosque in Bern, at 20 million Swiss francs (18 million euros), the creation of separate schools for Muslims, the launch of Muslim television, discount cards for Muslims, did not have the slightest beginning of a debut.
In other words, is he not a vulgar agitator at the head of a ghostly organisation (it claims, without proving it, 3,500 members, or 1% of Muslims in Switzerland)? Nicolas Blancho’s right-hand man, Qaasim Illi, does not have any more guarantees of seriousness. Before his conversion to Islam, he spent time in an evangelical fundamentalist church, before flirting with the extreme Swiss right. He was convicted in 2005 of possessing pornographic and scatological images, and for racial discrimination… As for his wife Nora Illi, also a convert, she is a strong advocate of polygamy. She asserts that “a woman’s duty is to satisfy a man. It is in a man’s nature to desire other women. Many women are selfish”. It also assures that “fighting against Syria, against Assad’s henchmen and for justice” does not present, “from the Islamic point of view, anything wrong”. For researcher Samir Amghar, the CCIS is a bearer of a religious radicality, but not a political one.
This is to forget that this team of converts, who play the fools in front of the press, also knows, more discreetly, how to forge links with Qatar. Nicolas Blancho has registered two associations in Bern, Qoranona and Aziz Aid, whose president is Abdulaziz Abdul Rahman Al-Thani, a member of the royal family. He is also vice-president of the International Islamic Council, based in Berne, headed by the Qatari Ali Abdullah al-Suwaidi, also at the head of the Internationaler Islamischer Rat. The latter is suspected by the Swiss secret services of having participated in the financing of the Al-Nostra Front, the branch of Al Qaeda in Syria, renamed the Fatah al-Sham Front in 2016. Pure coincidence? In September 2015, the CCIS broadcast an interview with Saudi Abdullah al-Muhaysini, the spiritual leader of the al-Nostra front.
This 38-minute video, subtitled in English, German and French, was viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube before being removed in September 2017. As a result, Nicolas Blancho, Qaasim Illi and the German-Tunisian Naim Cherni, director of the cultural production of the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland, were prosecuted by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office before the Federal Criminal Court in 2018 for propagating the ideology of Al-Qaeda. The first two were acquitted. Naim Cherni, the author of the video, was given a two-year suspended sentence. He appealed, considering that this video “is part of a journalistic context”.
The language barrier, known in Switzerland as Röstigraben, means that what happens in the German-speaking part of the country is often passed over in silence on the shores of Lake Geneva and in France. For example, the French-language media only occasionally focused on the stay of Malika El Around, the widow of one of Commander Massoud’s murderers, in the Confederation. She had remarried to the Tunisian Moez Garsallaoui. The latter, a senior Al-Qaeda official, was killed by an American drone in October 2012 in the North Waziristan in the tribal areas of Pakistan.
As for Nicolas Blancho, taking advantage of the indulgence of the Swiss authorities towards him, he no longer hesitates to let go, conceding to be in contact with characters on the terrorist list of the United States and extolling that for him “the armed jihad is part of the means of self-defence for a Muslim”.

*Journalist and writer, specialist of the Muslim Brotherhood