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Chile drops terrorism charges

Planting bombs can be dangerous work

This week Chilean prosecutors dropped charges for lack of evidence against 13 suspects imprisoned eight months for a series of bombings outside bank buildings.

Their case had swelled to almost 800 witnesses and 7,000 pieces of evidence, including history books and a poster of Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose.

The government’s plans to prosecute for terrorist conspiracy, with a penalty of life in prison, collapsed when a judge tossed out 70 percent of the evidence as weak or irrelevant and ordered prosecutors to pay legal fees for suspects who maintained a 65-day hunger strike in maximum security prison.

When an appeals court upheld the judge’s ruling, prosecutors had no choice but to drop the charges filed under Chile’s Pinochet-era anti-terror law, which permits secret witnesses, lengthy pre-trial detention and other harsh measures.

Four suspects still face charges of setting off 29 bombs, while two others are charged with allegedly financing the crimes.  All six were freed until the Nov. 28 trial.

The investigation had languished for years before Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter put prosecutor Alejandro Pena in charge.

Two months after taking over the case, Pena announced charges involving 120 noise bombs detonated outside banks between 2006 and 2010.  The only person who died in these attacks was a young man whose bomb prematurely went off in his backpack.