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Ecoterrorist goes on trial for murder

Camenisch is accused of shooting a border guard and attempting to murder a prison guard Keystone

The murder trial of self-proclaimed anarchist, Marco Camenisch, has got underway in Zurich amid high security.

This content was published on May 10, 2004 - 08:16

Camenisch stands accused of the attempted murder of a prison guard in 1981 and the fatal shooting of a border guard eight years later.

The 52-year-old, hailed by some as an antiglobalisation hero, has spent much of his life on the run or behind bars both in Switzerland and Italy.

Police in Zurich arrested 98 Camenisch supporters on Saturday, including around 40 Italians, when a demonstration calling for his release turned violent. Officers fired rubber bullets after being attacked with stones and bottles.

Camenisch, who comes from Campocologno in canton Graubünden, made a name for himself during the late 1970s and 1980s as a militant member of the anti-nuclear power movement.

He was jailed for ten years for bombing an electricity facility at Bad Ragaz in eastern Switzerland in 1979, a sentence considered excessive at the time.

But he escaped from prison, along with five others, two years later.

During the breakout, a prison guard was killed and another was seriously wounded.

Camenisch is also charged with murdering a border guard in Brusio on the Swiss-Italian border in 1989.

He is alleged to have fired several shots at the victim, who was approaching him to ask for his identity papers.

Victim shot

“We are seeking an acquittal on both charges,” Andrea Stauffacher, a member of Camenisch’s legal team, told swissinfo.

“On the first charge, two groups of prisoners escaped and only one group was armed. Marco was not in the group that was involved in the exchange of fire.”

Camenisch also denies murdering the border guard.

“After establishing that I had been seen in the area, they [the authorities] also accused me of this homicide,” he says in a statement on his website.

Bomb attacks

The Italian authorities finally arrested Camenisch in November 1991 after a shoot-out near the town of Massa in Tuscany. Camenisch and a policeman were wounded.

He was charged with causing bodily harm and carrying out a number of bomb attacks on power lines in Tuscany between 1989 and 1991. An Italian court sentenced him to 12 years in prison.

Camenisch was extradited to Switzerland in spring 2002 at the request of the Swiss authorities to serve the remaining eight years and 22 days of his 1979 sentence. A suspended investigation into his activities was then reopened.

Camenisch maintains he is being held responsible by the media and the authorities for the actions of ecoterrorists who have carried out around 30 bomb attacks against electricity installations in northern Italy since the 1980s.

Last month an electricity pylon was blown up in Valtelline in northern Italy. Police say they are focusing their investigations on a group linked to Camenisch.

Political prisoner

Stauffacher says attempts to link her client to actions outside the prison are off the mark.

“Marco is a political prisoner, a revolutionary, an anarchist and an ecologist; he has never denied his political history or identity. But he is inside and the movement is outside, independent from him,” she said.

“The Italian media and police try to make him out to be the leader, but that’s ridiculous.”

Last month Camenisch went on hunger strike to protest at his detention conditions.

His supporters staged another demonstration in Zurich on Monday to mark the start of his court case.

The trial is due to run until the beginning of June. If convicted, Camenisch could face a minimum ten-year sentence or life imprisonment.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold

In brief

1979: ten-year sentence for bombing an electricity facility in Bad Ragaz.
1981: escapes from Regensdorf prison - one guard is killed and another wounded during the breakout.
1989: Camenisch is suspected of murdering a border guard in Brusio on the Swiss-Italian border.
1991: arrested in Tuscany in Italy after a shoot-out with police.
1993: sentenced to 12 years by an Italian court for carrying out attacks on power lines.
2002: extradited to Switzerland.
2004: goes on trial in Zurich for murder and attempted murder.

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