Emirati family tell of dramatic gunpoint arrest while on holiday in Switzerland

Mother and father handcuffed in front of children on motorway

The family were travelling between Zurich, pictured, and Lugano when they were stopped by police. Gianluca Colla / Bloomberg
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An Emirati father has described how his family was pulled over and held at gunpoint by police in Switzerland, before he and his wife were handcuffed in front of their children in a bizarre case of mistaken identity.

Bu Hamad, his wife and two children, four and six, found themselves surrounded by four police cars while driving between Zurich and Lugano while on holiday last week.

Armed officers from the cantonal police of Ticino took them into custody in what the family described as a frightening few hours. It later emerged that the family, which was on holiday in Austria and Switzerland, rented an Audi that police were looking for.

“At first I thought it was because of a traffic violation, but it was too aggressive," said Bu Hamad, 43, a senior financial officer for the government who asked not to be fully identified.

"They stopped traffic on the highway and came to us with their machine guns. They were wearing special forces-style police uniforms.

“They pointed their guns at my head and my wife’s head. They were seven armed officers and they spoke to us in their language, I could not understand anything.”


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Despite realising the incident must have been a mistake, Bu Hamad realised the matter was serious.

“So I told my wife 'just do as they tell you, whatever they ask you, answer them, don’t resist and don’t be aggressive'.”

“They pulled me and my wife out of the car, handcuffed us and made us stand us on the street under the rain. They were yelling at us in Italian, I think, and they were very rude and aggressive.”

Then one of the policemen finally spoke to him in broken English and explained to him that he was accused of ‘this and that’.

“They inspected me in the street in front of everyone. Then they asked me about the car, where I rented it from and when.”

He explained to them that he rented the vehicle on August 3 in Austria; he later discovered that the car had been wanted by the police since July.

“Then one of them said it is not good to leave us under the rain, so they put us back in the car. I told them I want to call my embassy they said ‘not now’.

“I could have remained silent, but I was confident that there was a mistake so I answered them to get it over with.”

After the police gathered their information while on the line with their headquarters, they took them to a police station in Bellinzona, Ticino.

During the ordeal, Bu Hamad's two sons, 4 and 6, were in a hysterical situation, he said, so a police woman drove his rented car with his wife and the children, and he was taken in the police car.

When they reached the station, they inspected him and took his iPad, documents and car papers.

“After they took everything they said 'there has been a misunderstanding'.”

“After they finished the questioning, they apologised to us."

Lulzana Musliu, a spokeswoman for Switzerland’s Federal Office of Police (Fedpol) told The National that the family's detention was a mistake.

“The persons in the car were not searched by police but the vehicle was," she said.

"This was due to hints to a possible threat. That’s why the people in this car were stopped and controlled.

“As it turned out they were not the persons we were looking for. They just happened to rent the car."

Following the incident, Bu Hamad raised the issue with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the UAE Embassy in Switzerland.

“The incident occurred on Thursday, so we are still following up through our embassy in Switzerland,” said a foreign affairs spokeswoman.

“But we need to highlight the fact that any person has the right to contact his or her embassy right away - not be made to wait until they reach a police station.”

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs has raised the issue with Switzerland's Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.

The spokeswoman added officials are aware of the "emotional damage the two children suffered".

Bu Hamad said he asked the embassy to recommend a lawyer, while he considers legal action.

“They aggressively stopped us in public and in front of our children, it was unnecessary to use this excessive force", he said.

His children have become uneasy around police, he said.

“We were sitting by the lake and they saw two cops walk by, and they freaked out and yelled ‘they will come take us now'."