Three environmental activists have been jailed for over three years each for plotting the bombing of the IBM nanotechnology centre in Switzerland.
A 26-year-old Swiss-Italian from Ticino and an Italian couple aged 29 and 34 were found guilty by the Federal Criminal Court of conspiring to destroy the IBM centre in Rüschlikon, near Zurich, while it was under construction.
They were also found guilty of importing explosives into Switzerland, then illegally hiding and transporting them.
The court in Bellinzona sentenced the trio to terms ranging from just over three years to three years and eight months in the trial which ended on Friday.
On top of their sentences, they will have to also pay court costs. All three have been detained since April 2010 and will have served around 15 months towards their sentence in the lead up to the trial.
Federal prosecutor Hansjörg Stadler said he was pleased with the verdict. "Very serious crimes are now being punished and, thanks to the good job done by the police, damages were prevented," he said.
The defence had pleaded for an acquittal, arguing there had been insufficient evidence proving the potential danger posed by the explosives seized. Defence lawyers declined to comment on the verdict.
Network of anarchists
The three detainees were caught last year about 3km from the IBM facility in possession of 476 grams of explosives and other components needed to build an improvised explosive device.
Also found in their car were 31 letters claiming responsibility for the planned attack in the name of a group calling itself ELF Switzerland Earth Liberation Front. Known in the United States as eco-terrorists, the group carry out “economic sabotage” to stop the destruction of the environment.
The trial has shed light on a loose-knit network of European anarchists, with prosecutors linking the detainees to extremist movements that have claimed responsibility for several violent attacks in the United States and Europe since the 1990s.
Federal prosecutor Stadler said the Swiss-Italian detainee was a member of the Animal Liberation Front, while the Italian married couple were founders and members of the Italian movement Wilderness, which has connections to the Earth Liberation Front.
Another organisation, the Italian-based Informal Anarchist Federation, responded to the trio’s arrest, sending a letter bomb to the Swiss nuclear agency in March with a note demanding their release.
A recent Swiss intelligence services report also found the three detainees had close links to the eco-terrorist movement, Il Silvestre, which came into existence about ten years ago in Pisa, Italy. Il Silvestre is considered among the most extreme and active groups of its kind.
The Federal Criminal Court said the three plotters would be held under special security conditions. According to the presiding judge, Walter Wüthrich, all three represented "a serious risk of evasion and flight to Italy".
Security was also very tight during the trial. The case attracted 50 anarchist protestors dressed in black with dreadlocks and carrying placards and megaphones, calling for the “immediate release” of the three detainees, as well as their “spiritual father”, convicted Swiss eco-terrorist Marco Camenisch.
Camenisch is serving an eight year sentence in Switzerland for sabotaging electricity facilities in a protest against nuclear energy from the late 1970s.
Kept away from the courthouse by riot police, the protestors quietly dispersed on Friday. Police said however they could be planning another demonstration outside the Lugano prison La Stampa where the detainees were believed to be taken temporarily.
Chronology of events
April 15, 2010: Two Italians and a Swiss-Italian are arrested near Langnau am Albis in canton Zurich by traffic police. A large quantity of explosive material, ignition fuel and gas cans are found in the trunk of their car. Also inside are leaflets signed by the ELF Switzerland Earth Liberation Front claiming responsibility for an attack against the construction of the IBM research centre in nanotechnology outside Zurich. The three are arrested and imprisoned in Switzerland. Despite the foiled attack, the centre opens in May 2011.
October 5, 2010: A bomb is found outside the Swiss embassy in Rome. On a nearby wall is a sign calling for the release of the three.
November 1-2, 2010: A letter bomb seriously injures the hand of an employee of the Swiss embassy in Rome. The same day a bomb explodes at the Chilean in Rome where a man suffers injuries to the face and hands. In claiming responsibility for the attack, the Informal Anarchist Federation mentions the three arrested in April in Zurich.
January 17, 2011: Anarchists try to set fire to a Federal Criminal Court building in Bellinzona, signing the work with the circled A symbol.
March 31, 2011: A letter bomb explodes at the offices of Swiss nuclear agency in Olten, injuring two women. The Informal Anarchist Federation claim responsibility again. The same day, an officer in an Italian paratrooper brigade is injured in a package bomb, losing eight fingers.
May 6, 2011: Detainees’ case is approved to go to Federal Criminal Court.
(With input from Gemma d'Urso in Bellinzona), swissinfo.ch and agencies