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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 January, 2004, 19:31 GMT
Italy's history of terror
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News Online

Italian investigators are focusing their attention on a shadowy group thought to be based in Bologna after a string of bomb attacks beginning in the Christmas period.

Red Brigade five-point star logo
A Red Brigades logo was found near a murder scene in 2002
They suspect that a number of letter bombs received by EU officials, including European Commission President Romano Prodi, are the work of Italian anarchists.

An Italian-based group calling itself the Informal Anarchist Federation has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Investigators believe the group has fewer than 300 members in Italy.

The previously unknown group shares the Italian initials - FAI - of a well-known northern group, the Italian Anarchists Federation. However, the latter condemned the attacks as counterproductive and denied any role in the bombings.

'Years of lead'

Italy has a history of politically motivated extremist groups. The most notorious was the Bologna-based, Marxist-Leninist Red Brigades formed in the 1970s by student protesters dedicating themselves to an armed struggle against the capitalist state.

The Red Brigades created such fear during the 1970s and early 1980s that the period is known in Italy as the Years of Lead, referring to the vast number of bullets fired.

Italian authorities say they view the Informal Anarchist Federation as less threatening than the Red Brigades. Enrico di Nicola, chief prosecutor of the Bologna magistrates office, said the new group appears to lack the structure, organisation or the political positions of the Marxists.

They are probably trying to play on the dissatisfaction within some sectors of the north, where citizens are against Europe
Gianfranco Pasquino
Professor of political sciences
Gianfranco Pasquino, professor of political sciences and a terrorism expert at Bologna University, says there is no evidence that the Informal Anarchists are connected to the Red Brigades.

"It appears to be a small group linked to the anti-globalisation movement" he told BBC News Online.

Italy's La Repubblica newspaper printed extracts of a declaration made by the group, which states that it is against "Europe's masters, their war, their peace, their repression [and] their control".

But Mr Pasquino said: "Their aims are unclear because they have not published a [detailed] pamphlet yet."

He added: "They are probably trying to play on the dissatisfaction within some sectors of the north, where citizens are against Europe.

"Italy has generally been in favour of EU integration but there are those, particularly in the north, who are exposed to the increased competition this has created, feel challenged by the increased migration and feel they have been left behind by the integration. I think this group is probably trying to make inroads into this dissatisfaction."

He said he believed the group did not have a specific goal at the moment, but that the postal attacks were to show that it existed.

The FAI appears not be very technologically sophisticated, Mr Pasquino says. "The explosives they use are not real bombs," he said. While the packages have exploded when opened, no-one has been hurt by the devices.

Bologna connection

It is not clear whether members of the group are from Bologna or have just chosen to identify with the city because of its association with former acts of terror.

If you want to create havoc in Italy, you do it via Bologna
Gianfranco Pasquino
It was a traditional stronghold of the Communist Party, has a large and prestigious university, is highly prosperous and seen very much as a key Italian city, linking the north and south of the country.

As well as being the home of the Red Brigades, Bologna was also targeted by a right-wing group which planted a bomb at the city's railway station in 1980 which killed 85 people.

"If you want to create havoc in Italy, you do it via Bologna," Mr Pasquino said.

In 1998, a series of parcel bomb attacks on politicians, journalists and judges sparked fears of a return to the type of terror inflicted by the Red Brigades. Anarchists and leftists were believed to be responsible for the attacks.

Earlier that year, there had been tension in Turin, home of the Fiat empire and Juventus football team, between authorities and squatters based at 12 self-declared collectives run by anarchists and other left-wing groups.

March 1978: Aldo Moro killed by Red Brigades
August 1980: Bomb planted by right-wing group at Bologna railway station kills 85
March 1985: Ezio Tarantelli, labour law expert, murdered
May 1999: Massimo D'Antona, industrial adviser, shot dead
March 2002: Marco Biagi, industrial adviser, shot dead
Italy was also the scene of some violent clashes between police and anarchist groups during the 2002 Group of Eight summit in Genoa.

And it was back in Bologna in 2002 that fears of a new generation of Marxist killers were raised when an eminent economics adviser, Marco Biagi, was murdered and the five-pointed star logo of the Red Brigades was marked nearby.

The Red Brigades gained notoriety throughout the 1970s and early 1980s for violent attempts to destabilise Italy with sabotage attacks on factories, bank robberies and kidnappings.

In 1978, the group abducted and murdered Aldo Moro, the Christian Democrat leader and former prime minister, who was trying to reach an "historic compromise" with the Communists.

After mass arrests in the late 1980s, the terror group slowly faded into insignificance though the murder of government adviser Massimo D'Antona in 1999 and the Biagi killing brought back memories.

A group describing themselves as the new Red Brigades claimed responsibility for both murders, although it is unclear how close they were to the original underground movement.

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29 Dec 03  |  Europe

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