By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A self-described anarchist from Brooklyn who refused to testify before a federal grand jury thought to be investigating a 2008 bomb explosion in New York's Times Square was sent to jail on Tuesday after being found in civil contempt.
Gerald Koch, 24, had been asked last week to testify before a grand jury that his lawyer says is believed to be probing a small bomb detonation outside a U.S. armed forces recruiting station.
It marked the second time he had been called to testify on the matter since 2009. Koch, who had been associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, refused, citing rights under the U.S. Constitution, particularly the First Amendment.
U.S. District Judge John Keenan in Manhattan said he ordered Koch to testify at a closed-door hearing on Thursday and again on Tuesday. But after his lawyer advised on Tuesday that he again would not, the judge held him in contempt.
Koch was ordered into federal custody for an indefinite period of time, no longer than 18 months or the remaining life of the grand jury. He can be released if he testifies.
The grand jury is believed to be investigating a small explosion that took place in the early morning of March 6, 2008, according to his lawyer, Susan Tipograph. The explosion caused no injuries, though it damaged the recruiting station.
Police said at the time that low-grade explosives had been packed in an ammunition box. A video at the time showed a person on a bicycle dismounting, walking near the station, and then leaving shortly before the blast, police said.
Koch is not a target of the grand jury, Tipograph said. Koch said in a statement posted on a website established about his case that when he was first called in 2009, the government informed his lawyers they believed he was at a bar in 2008 or 2009 where someone indicated they knew who committed the bombing.
Koch has repeatedly refused to testify. He says on the website that "the grand jury is being used to conduct a witch hunt against anarchists and political radicals." Tipograph called Koch's stance a matter of principle.
"It's a decision not based on hiding anything or protecting anyone," she said.
Koch had previously sought to quash a subpoena to testify in this latest proceeding, but Keenan denied that motion last week, according to records unsealed on Tuesday.
Keenan said Koch "should not be permitted to use his First Amendment rights as a shield, simply because he gained knowledge of who committed a crime through his exercise of his right to free association."
The proceedings have over the last several days drawn large crowds of young people, including a group of supporters called The Support Jerry Committee. More than 40 supporters attended Tuesday's hearing.
As Koch was taken into custody at the hearing's close, supporters yelled "We're with you Jerry" and "We love you Jerry."
David Rankin, another lawyer for Koch, said after the hearing that he planned to appeal. A spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined comment on the case.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Phil Berlowitz)