Letter bomb suspect sought to end Spain's support for Ukraine, judge says

FILE PHOTO: Spanish national police officers lead away a 74-year-old man under arrest on suspicion of being the sender of letter-bombs in November and December to the Ukrainian and U.S. embassies and several institutions in Spain, in Miranda de Ebro, Spain January 25, 2023. REUTERS/Vincent West/File Photo

MADRID (Reuters) - A 74-year-old Spanish man arrested over a spate of letter bombs sent to institutions including the prime minister's office and the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid in late 2022 was trying to pressure Spain to drop its support for Ukraine, an investigating magistrate said on Friday.

Pompeyo Gonzalez Pascual is under formal investigation over two possible aggravated terrorism charges and four terrorism charges, the magistrate said during his first court hearing, according to the court documents released on Friday. He was ordered to be detained pending any formal charges and further hearings.

The suspect used Russian messaging apps such as VK and the Swiss end-to-end encrypted email service Protonmail, which could indicate a risk of him fleeing to Russia, the magistrate added.

His online history included Russian state media RT and Sputnik as well as Spanish-language websites about weapons and chemistry.

Still, the evidence suggests Gonzalez acted alone, the judge wrote. He said the suspect's alleged actions showed his intent to alter the public peace and to give the impression they were carried out by people with ties with Russia as retribution for Spain's and the United States' support for Ukraine amid Russia's invasion of the country.

"There is no indication that the person under investigation belongs to or collaborates with any terrorist gang or organised group," the statement said.

According to the judge, among the items found in the police search of Gonzalez's home were various cylindrical rods that may correspond to the same type of cylinders that housed the incendiary pistons in the homemade explosive devices. There were also screws and springs similar to their "firing pins" and precision drills similar to those used to make them.

To make the devices, Gonzalez used Amazon to buy some of the materials, including potassium nitrate, a cable with a wick, switches, copper filaments, and incandescent bulbs, the documents from the closed hearing showed.

Gonzalez was arrested in a police operation dubbed Konvert - which means envelope in Russian - in Miranda de Ebro in central Spain on Jan. 25.

He is accused of sending at total of six parcels with explosives between Nov. 24 and Dec. 2 to various Spanish and diplomatic institutions in the country. In addition to the Ukrainian Embassy and Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's office, they were addressed to the U.S. Embassy, the Defence Ministry, an air force base and a weapons manufacturer.

Most were defused, although an employee at the Ukrainian embassy was slightly injured when one ignited. Investigators have concluded that at least three of the parcels were sent from Burgos, near Gonzalez's home, police said in a statement on Friday.

The judge said police were able to track down Gonzalez by tracing back the stamps on the envelopes, some of which could only have been bought in a small number of shops in Burgos.

Gonzalez used to work for the town hall of the Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz before retiring in 2013, a city spokesperson said.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, Inti Landauro and David Latona; Writing by Charlie Devereux; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Alison Williams and Aislinn Laing)

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