After two centuries of neutrality, Switzerland found itself in a bizarre and unprecedented situation Friday, facing a would-be "holy war" announced by Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the Associated Press reports.
The Swiss government declined to comment on Gadhafi's latest salvo in a simmering diplomatic saga stemming from the Geneva police's 2008 arrest and brief detainment of his son, Hannibal, and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants, AP reporter Bradley S. Klapper writes.
Although Gadhafi's jihad declaration late Thursday was widely viewed as a stunt by a leader given to outlandish behavior, the danger was difficult to dismiss in an era of Islamic-Western foment over issues ranging from headdress bans in Europe to faraway Middle East disputes, Iran's nuclear program and Nordic newspapers' caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
Analysts urged caution and Swiss citizens and politicians expressed alarm that a nation which managed to steer clear of direct involvement in the world wars and other bloody European conflicts was being dragged into an increasingly messy — if still nonviolent — conflict with an unpredictable government.
"You never know with crazies," nationalist lawmaker Oskar Freysinger told the AP. "I can imagine that this won't be taken very seriously. But nevertheless, it's the head of a state making a declaration of war against Switzerland."
There was no sign of a security alert, however, or heightened official vigilance.
Gadhafi called for the "holy war" ostensibly because of a recent Swiss referendum that banned the construction of new mosque minarets in the country. He also urged Muslims everywhere to boycott Swiss products and to bar the country's planes and ships from the airports or seaports of Muslim nations.
Many here saw the proclamation as another act of revenge. Hannibal was released after two days, but Tripoli retaliated by recalling diplomats from Switzerland, taking its money out of Swiss vaults, interrupting oil shipments to the neutral country and preventing two Swiss businessmen from leaving Libya.
One Swiss businessman was released this week after 19 months of detention, 69-year-old construction executive Rachid Hamdani. But 54-year-old Max Goeldi, an employee of the engineering firm ABB, remains in Libya.