Alpine country goes back into lockdown, suspending tourism as the holiday season starts

The July 25 holiday arrives as a federal investigation of German extremist leftwing groups – a suspect is held – raises concerns over the neo-Nazi threat in the mountains

Alpine country goes back into lockdown, suspending tourism as the holiday season starts

Tourists who planned to escape town, after Berlin bans driving, face month-long shutdown

Small-town villages in Switzerland have been locked down, as the Alpine country prepares for the peak holiday season by halting tourism for one month.

After a nationwide ban on driving outside town at the end of May, people in the past have fled the event, which brought a series of terrorist acts in 2000.

A refugee centre in Plouay, Switzerland. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Before the 1999 invasion of Kosovo, Swiss tourist numbers plunged after the World Trade Centre massacre, which prompted many tourists to decamp to the coast. Last year the steepest drops occurred in the resort towns around Lake Geneva in eastern Switzerland, a popular gateway to the Matterhorn and the Jura mountains.

About 300 holiday homes in the valley of Sulzersgründe in eastern Switzerland – a popular caravan site from spring to summer – have been put on lockdown and seasonal workers have been sequestered for the next month.

Swiss interior minister Alain Berset said: “It’s part of our strategy to better prepare for a possible escalation in radical violence … to limit the impact of holiday-makers, citizens and visitors to the mountains and lakes of Switzerland.”

The country has added explosives experts to its border agency to help with frontier checks.

Berset told daily Le Matin: “In my capacity as interior minister I cannot and I will not tolerate people being taken hostage, although obviously these measures have no connection to a ban on driving. It is to safeguard tourism.”

The move, however, has prompted questions from far-right German political parties about possible nationalist groups hiding in the mountains.

Alain Zimmermann, the head of the Swiss tourist agency, said the mass closure was not about a terrorist threat, but was designed to deal with “alarmist” media reports of a threat.

Tourists typically visit Switzerland in July and August, when stays are usually made over the summer. The change in season coincides with the annual “summer safari” in July and August, an annual Alpine hiking festival in the Swiss Alps, with eight days of music, food and booze-filled events.

Tourists passing through the ski resort of Gstaad. Photograph: Bertrand Vogel/AFP/Getty Images

Switzerland has been spared from the kind of terror attacks that claimed the lives of 16 Germans last year in Tunisia, for example, and hundreds of Germans in France.

But Austrian intelligence services raised concerns two years ago after arrests there made several people appear more radical than they appeared, suggesting they were recent arrivals from Europe and possibly Germany.

Earlier this month, a refugee who spent several years in Germany was ordered released by a court in the German city of Frankfurt on grounds that his detention had been “too long”.

Two possible suspects are being held in Switzerland, the federal prosecutor’s office said.

In 2014 a 38-year-old Kosovan Serb lawyer from the Valais region was convicted of leading a militant neo-Nazi group that desecrated memorials in Switzerland that commemorate Holocaust victims.

• This article was amended on 21 May 2015. The original said that the Radisson SAS were the only airline to be hit by terrorist attacks in 2000.

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