'Eco-anarchists' in court accused of plot to destroy IBM centre

Three accused eco-terrorists have gone on trial under heavy security in Switzerland's highest criminal court for an alleged plot to blow up an IBM nanotech research centre as it was being built near Zurich.

The trial in the Federal Criminal Court of an Italian couple and Swiss man living in Italy opened yesterday after a one-hour delay because of the extraordinary security taken by Swiss police, who cordoned off the area with metal barriers.

The three defendants - 35-year-old Costantino Alfonso Ragusa, his 29-year-old wife Silvia Ragusa Guerini and their 26-year-old Swiss friend Luca "Billy" Cristos Bernasconi - had been detained after being arrested last year with explosives.

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Swiss authorities have linked the three to an Italian group that also has claimed responsibility for bombings in Greece, Switzerland and Italy.

Their defence lawyers said the trial should have been held in Italy and claimed that putting them on trial in Switzerland was unfair because Swiss police had used a "staged traffic control" to arrest the defendants.

"This is a violation of the law which prescribes presumption of innocence for anybody," said lawyer Christian Meier, representing Bernasconi. Marcel Bosonnet, a lawyer for Ragusa, agreed.

The three were stopped in traffic in April 2010 near Zurich, about two miles from what police said was their intended target, the IBM research centre at Rueschlikon that opened in May.The court dismissed the defence objections, saying Zurich police had acted correctly.

The three had left Italy a day earlier, and the police said a search of them and their car turned up explosives hidden in the woman's clothing and other materials used for bomb- making in a bag they carried.

Prosecutor Hans-Joerg Stadler presented evidence that the police had found explosive gel and several types of fuel that were to be used in the planned IBM attack. A chemist and a specialist in defusing bombs told the court the combination was almost as strong as TNT, and could be deadly, and that anyone can find detailed instructions on the internet on how to use explosives.

Mr Stadler said the police also found 31 handwritten letters claiming responsibility for the planned attack signed on behalf of "ELF Switzerland, Earth Liberation Front." The letters, according to police, described the three as revolutionary "eco-anarchists" and said their attack on the IBM centre was meant to be "as destructive as possible".

The Earth Liberation Front, or ELF, is an environmental extremist movement of people, or cells, that was founded in Britain and spread through Europe in the early 1990s.

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Biotechnology is used to create new drugs and conduct research with plants and animals. Nanotechnology involves manipulating and making new materials between 1 and 100 nanometres in size; one nanometre equals one billionth of a metre.

Both are increasingly being used, particularly for agriculture, medical and military uses, but there has been much public debate about the implications for the environment.

About 60 protesters gathered outside the courthouse with loudspeakers and banners demanding freedom for the defendants and opposing biotechnology, nanotechnology and nuclear power. A verdict is expected on Friday.

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