Bumbling bomb plot exposes Poland's dark side
KRAKOW, Poland (Reuters) - The Polish man arrested for plotting to blow up parliament was not difficult for intelligence agents to spot. Acquaintances say he put up posters advertising classes on home-made explosives, and anti-government comments were posted on the Internet from his email address.
But even if it was destined to fail, the story of this alleged bomb plot reveals some uncomfortable truths about Poland, a country hailed abroad as a success story for its transition from Communism to democracy.
What emerges from the online chat rooms and social networking sites where the suspect purportedly aired his views is Poland's dark side, inhabited by a tiny minority who feel marginalized by the country's transformation and angry enough to want to overthrow the government.
Some of them, say people who track extremism in Poland, could be plotting violent attacks; and next time, they might not be so inept as the man prosecutors say was behind the plot they uncovered.
"This person made a lot of very basic mistakes," said Andrzej Kruczynski, a former officer in the Polish armed forces' GROM anti-terrorist unit. "If this person had a little more imagination, we could have seen a tragedy ... We can consider ourselves lucky that acts of terrorism have not reached us."
The allegations of a bomb plot resonated deeply in Poland because it was the first such case in the two decades since the country emerged from Communist rule.
Prosecutors said they arrested a 45-year-old chemistry lecturer from the southern city of Krakow on suspicion of planning to detonate a vehicle packed with four tons of explosives outside the parliament building.
They said the suspect had "nationalist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic" motivations and believed the people running the country were "not true Poles".
He drew inspiration from Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in bomb and gun attacks in Norway last year, prosecutors say, and he planned to bomb parliament when the prime minister and president were inside the building.
Prosecutors have identified the suspect only as Brunon K. Officials have confirmed his full name to Reuters, but under Polish law it cannot be published.
He has been charged with plotting to overthrow the constitutional authorities through violence, and preparing to cause large-scale threat to life with explosives.
His lawyer, Wojciech Swiatkowski, declined to comment on the case when contacted by Reuters. Prosecutors said the suspect had acknowledged to them he was in possession of explosives but said that the plot was organized by someone else.
Interviews with the man's neighbors and students, and research on Internet sites he frequented, paint a picture of a man who had a lifelong fascination with explosives, was drawn to anti-establishment conspiracy theories, and was impatient for action to change the system.
Until his arrest, he lived on the sixth floor of a drab, Communist-era apartment building in Krakow, the same place he had lived since he was a child. It is across the street from a local prosecutor's office.
FINGERS BLOWN OFF
Several neighbors recalled an incident in the early 1980s when Brunon K., then a teenager, set off an explosion that blasted out the windows in his parent's flat and sent furniture flying in the homes of other tenants.
"His mother ran to the ninth floor, to the only phone at the time, to call paramedics," a neighbor, who for decades lived two floors above Brunon K.'s family, told Reuters.
"I ran downstairs and found Brunon all covered in blood. The blast blew off several fingers on both hands. I had to take the bloody remains of one of his fingers off the wall," said the neighbor, who declined to give her name.
Years later, his students at Krakow's Agricultural University said he always kept one hand in his pocket.
The blast did not dim his enthusiasm for explosives. One of his students, Tomasz, 20, said Brunon K. had circulated flyers looking for students interested in classes about pyrotechnics.
"(This was) unusual since this is an agricultural university," said the student.
In a posting on an Internet forum dated October 11, 2012, someone using Brunon K.'s email address complained that, about six months earlier, officials had forced him to stop giving classes in explosives and threatened him with prosecution.
The address used in the postings is the same one which, according to his students, the suspect handed out for them to use to send him academic correspondence.
Few people who knew him from the university and his apartment building could remember him expressing strong views or talking about politics.
"He would ride the elevator in silence without saying hello," said Barbara, a neighbor.
Once in the world of online chat rooms and social networking sites, he adopted a different persona.
A post under his online identity carried a link to a video on the YouTube video-sharing site, entitled "Wake Up Call", an amateur documentary which purported to explain how some rich families were plotting to control the world.
In several posts he made pejorative puns about the party of Prime Minister Donald Tusk. One contained a mention of a "ginger-haired bandit" - probably a reference to Tusk.
He appeared to be trying to draw other people in. One post, addressed to several online nick-names, said: "It is high time to stop bull-shitting and start to act. Just talking achieves nothing. One lone person is nothing but a group is already something. I invite you to get in touch in person."
Another post said: "I propose that we organize ourselves against tyranny. Our grand-fathers and fathers fought so that we could live in a free country. The majority of your are all talk and no action. It's time to start."
He made little effort to disguise himself online. Many posts were made under his work email address and he invited people who shared his convictions to contact him on that address.
On Thursday, officials from Poland's ABW internal security agency, who investigated the case, gave a closed-door briefing to members of parliament's Committee on Secret Services.
Committee chairman Konstanty Miodowicz, speaking to Reuters after the briefing, said Brunon K. was seen by intelligence officers as a "lone wolf", someone who had no links to any network of radicals.
But he added that there could be more people like him, even though they were considered a low-level threat.
"The ABW is currently monitoring a few extremist groups and people, who may commit acts of terror," Miodowicz said. "We must take into account the actions taken by such frustrated individuals."
The reaction to Brunon K's arrest shows that, ideologically, he was not alone - and that there are other people who have sympathy with his aims.
Messages about Brunon. K were posted to his profile on Nasza Klasa, one of Poland's most popular social networking sites. Some condemned his actions, but others praised him.
"Keep it going!!!! CHASE DOWN JEWS!!!!!!!" was posted by a user describing himself as Pawel Nowak. On his own profile elsewhere on the same site, the user has a picture of a baby dressed as Adolf Hitler, and images of brown-shirted young men giving Nazi-style salutes.
A message from another user says about Brunon. K: "Hail to the great Pole! A great man of principles!" That user calls himself Robercik Biedron SkinheadWhiteHonor. His profile on the site has an image of a knife and the slogan: "Death to gypsies."
People who track violent radicals say this kind of language and imagery is a hallmark of what they say is Poland's loosely-organized far-right movement.
Its supporters rail against Jews, foreigners and homosexuals, they reject Polish integration into the European Union, and have a deep hatred of Tusk's government.
They are a very small minority of Poland's 37 million population and most people do not share their views. But they are dangerous, according to the "Never Again" Association, a non-governmental group that monitors the militant right.
The group says it has logged dozens of murders committed by people with far-right sympathies since 1990, and that incidents involving the far-right were up 30 percent this year - possibly a reaction to hardship caused by the economic downturn.
(Additional reporting by Karolina Slowikowska, Pawel Sobczak and Piotr Pilat; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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