A self-proclaimed eco-terrorist who sparked a major alert after planting a homemade “bomb” in a city centre public garden has been jailed for eight years and four months.
Former Greek serviceman Nikolaos Karvounakis left the device in a shelter at Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh with a message inside stating: “F*** You All”.
Advocate depute Angela Gray told the High Court in Edinburgh: “The device was later established to contain the component parts of a potentially viable device.
“Had it detonated, it would have the potential to cause significant injury to persons and damage to property in close proximity as a result of fragments of metal pipe or metal nails that were within it being propelled outwards from the explosion.”
Karvounakis, 35, later claimed to be a member of the “International Terrorist Mafia” and said he was a “lover of nihilist anti-political violence”.
Ms Gray said: “This is known as ITS, an abbreviation of a Spanish phrase translating to ‘individualists tending to the wild’.
“This Mexican terrorist organisation was formed during 2011. The group focuses on eco-terrorism, which involves acts of violence committed against people and or property in support of environmental causes.”
The device was found to contain low grade explosive and 58 nails – 27 of which were cut in half – inside a metal pipe and was made safe by Army ordnance experts.
A judge told him: “Although the device did not detonate, all the component parts for that to happen were present.”
Lord Braid said that Karvounakis had bought the components over a period of months and used instruction videos over the internet to build a viable device.
He told him: “The offence involved a high degree of culpability on your part as shown by the significant degree of planning.
“Afterwards you appeared to exult in the commission in your claim of responsibility.”
Lord Braid said he took into account that Karvounakis has no previous convictions, has expressed remorse and appeared to have renounced previously held beliefs.
The judge told him he would have been jailed for ten years but for his guilty plea to the offence.
First offender Karvounakis, formerly of Granton Road, Edinburgh, earlier admitted committing an offence under the Terrorism Act on January 11, 2018, at the city centre gardens.
He pled guilty to possessing a device containing explosive material in circumstances that gave rise to a reasonable suspicion that it was for a purpose connected with the “commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism”.
Cretan-born Karvounakis, who completed his national service in the Greek Army before moving to stay in Scotland in 2013, has indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
The court heard that he lived with his wife and held down a series of jobs in the hospitality sector, at a supermarket and latterly as a cleaner.
Ms Gray said: “On January 11, in 2018 at 5pm, a group of City of Edinburgh council staff were made aware by a member of the public of a cardboard box containing what appeared to be a ‘bomb’ device in one of the shelters in Princes Street Gardens.
“At this time the staff members transported the item to the garden’s entrance on King’s Stables Road. In fact, it transpired that some members of the public had noticed the box as early as 10am but had not alerted anyone.”
The box was found to contain a black pipe, wiring and a battery with “f*** you all” written on an internal flap surface. A controlled detonation took place after the emergency services sprang into action, cordoning off nearby streets and closing the gardens.
More than 70 members of the emergency services were at the scene on rotational shifts over 48 hours.
Six weeks later, a reporter on the Edinburgh Evening News newspaper received an email headed “International Terrorist Group in UK”.
It contained a link to an eco-extremist website where Karvounakis had anonymously posted a claim of responsibility. It included a picture of the device when it was left in the gardens and Karvounakis signed off as ‘Misanthropos Cacogen’.
Ms Gray said the incident resulted in extensive police investigations in the UK and abroad and Police Scotland received intelligence in December 2020 that focused enquiries on him.
He was later arrested by counter terrorism officers and said: “I don’t understand, is there any evidence of this?”
DNA evidence was recovered from sticky tape on the device, which linked Karvounakis to the item.
Police investigations revealed that he had purchased components for it from DIY stores and over the internet. The court heard that in order to detonate the device a bulb filament would need to connect to a fuse when the box was opened.
Karvounakis claimed that the fuse was not connected to the filament but expert explosives scientists warned that there still remained a risk of initiating the device.
Defence counsel John Scullion QC said: “It is a very serious offence committed by an individual with no criminal history.”
He said that Karvounakis had gone through a difficult period in his life, struggling with anxiety and low self-esteem, and had spent an increasing amount of time online getting into conversations with persons holding extremist views, but subsequently took steps to distance himself from them.
He added: “It is fair to say he now bitterly regrets what he did and will bitterly regret it for the rest of his life.”
The defence counsel earlier told the court that Karvounakis had intended to cause disruption, but not physical harm and the device was not set to detonate.
Karvounakis was told that he will be subject to notification requirements under counter terrorism legislation for 15 years and was placed on a serious crime prevention, which will run for five years from his release placing limits on contacts and the use of devices.