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Aldo Moro
Aldo Moro
Aldo Moro in a photograph released by the Red Brigades during his captivity, before his murder on May 9th, 1978. | Photo: Associated Press | Aldo Moro, Italy, Red Brigades, Murder, 1978,

A Rebirth for Italian Terrorism?

On March 16, 1978, Aldo Moro, the former Prime Minister of Italy and head of Italy's largest and most powerful political party, the Christian Democrats, was kidnapped in broad daylight in downtown Rome. Enroute to the Parliament building for important political discussions, Moro's two-car convoy was hit on Via Mario Fani. A single vehicle brought the cars carrying Moro and his bodyguards to a halt in the narrow street. Another blocked them in from behind. Gunmen dressed as Alitalia, the Italian state airline, personnel so as to ensure they could identify each other in the chaos, opened fire.

Ninety-one bullets were fired by the assailants. Forty-five of those struck the bodyguards riding with Moro and in a following vehicle. All five individuals were killed. Only one even had a chance to return fire. Moro himself was untouched as were all of his attackers.

Moro was kidnapped and taken from the scene. He was held for fifty-four days in an apartment in Rome. Then, when it became clear the Italian government would not negotiate for his release, he was shoved into a vehicle and shot eleven times with a shotgun. His body was dumped near the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party in Rome.

Moro's murderers were members of the Red Brigades, an Italian terrorist group active in the 1970's and 1980's in Italy. They are credited with a grand total of some 14,000 actions during their existence. Their ideology was a potent mix of Marxism-Leninism and anarchism. They opposed Italy's membership in NATO and sought to create a revolutionary Communist state in Italy. In their prime, they were as lethal as any terrorist group on the planet, and they came very close to igniting a revolutionary fire in Italy that would have consumed that nation from within.

The Red Brigades as we they existed in 1978 are no longer with us. Internal ideological disputes, the end of the Cold War and determined police work by the Italians ultimately brought them down. Many of their key personnel, once in custody, rolled over and agreed to provide testimony against their former comrades. The blaze, which had threatened to destroy democratic Italy, was beaten back.

But not extinguished.

Last week, an Italian anarchist group calling itself the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary (FAI), took responsibility for the shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, the CEO of Ansaldo Nucleare in Genoa on June 4, 2012. Ansaldo Nucleare, part of the Italian industrial conglomerate, Finmeccanica, builds, operates and decommissions nuclear power plants. Adinolfi was ambushed near his residence in Genoa and shot in the legs by two assailants, who then fled the scene on motorbikes.

The letter taking credit for the shooting of Adinolfi was sent to the Italian newspaper, Il Giornale. In the letter the FAI stated that Adinolfi was a "sorcerer of the atomic industry" and that it was only a matter of time until a "European Fukushima" occurred. The wording of the statement was eerily reminiscent of the ego-maniacal, self-aggrandizing tone of the Red Brigades and their kindred spirits of the 1970's and 1980's, the "Red Army Faction" in Germany, "17 November" in Greece and "Action Directe" in France: "Despite not liking violent-style rhetoric, it has been with a certain pleasantness that we armed ourselves, with pleasure that we loaded the magazine. Grasping the pistol, choosing and following the target, coordinating mind and hand were necessary steps, the logical consequence of an idea of justice, the risk of a choice and at the same time a confluence of enjoyable sensations."

This latest action was a significant escalation in a steady string of attacks attributed to FAI and other Italian anarchist groups. In 2010, ten threatening letters addressed to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other prominent public figures were intercepted. The letters contained death threats and blasted plans for government austerity measures. Each letter contained a single bullet and was sent in the name of an Italian anarchist group calling itself the Armed Proletarian Movement.

On December 23, 2010, FAI sent exploding parcels to the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome. On March 31, 2011 a letter bomb exploded at the headquarters of Swissnuclear in Switzerland. The same day another mail bomb exploded at the barracks of an Italian Army unit in Livorno, Italy. Both of these attacks were attributed to FAI, as was the sending of a bomb to Josef Ackerman, the CEO of Deutsche Bank on December 7, 2011. A letter bomb sent by FAI to an Italian tax office in December 2011 severely injured a tax office employee. Numerous other letter bombs sent to tax offices around Italy in the recent past have also been claimed by elements of the FAI.

The papers are filled with news of Europe's economic troubles and efforts to contain them. The television news programs barrage their viewers with commentary regarding the significance of the events unfolding. Almost of all it, however, is dry, business related discussion focused on how events across the Atlantic will impact us and our economic situation. What will a slowdown in Europe do to the prospects for an American economic recovery? What will it do to our exports? What will it mean for jobs here?

What is rarely, if ever discussed, is the direct human, social impact on Europe itself. We may admit the possibility of some members of the European Union being forced out and having to print their own currency. We have no doubt, apparently, that Western Europe will continue to remain a generally stable and democratic region. The Italians may face hard times ahead, but nothing fundamental is going to happen to the structure of their society or their government.

We should not be so complacent. Senior Italian political figures are not. Speaking recently to a group of students in the Italian town of Arezzo, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, had this to say about the impact of austerity measures imposed by his government. "The country is now marked by profound social tensions. It's inevitable that social unease is increasing, that job insecurity fuels a sense of suffering, that there are serious signs of tears in social cohesion."

Aldo Moro
Aldo Moro

When the Red Brigades decided to kill Moro, they placed him in a car and told him to cover himself with a blanket saying that they were going to transport him to another location. After Moro was covered, they shot ten rounds into him, killing him: according to the official reconstruction after a series of trials, the killer was Mario Moretti. | Aldo Moro, Italy, Red Brigades, Murder, 1978,

Speaking shortly thereafter to a group of small business owners, Industry Minister Corrado Passera also said he was increasingly concerned by the impact of unemployment and economic difficulties on Italian society. Passera stated his belief that the true impact of unemployment in Italy was grossly underestimated. He said that if one took into account those individuals who were under-employed, those who had quit looking for work and the family members of the unemployed fully fifty percent of Italians were directly impacted by unemployment. He stated that the economic situation in Italy was now so dire that "The social and economic fabric of Italy is at risk".

Recent comments by Italian anarchists and terrorists appear to bear Passera out. A branch of the FAI active in Britain recently took credit for the sabotage of rail facilities and a government communications site in the United Kingdom. The same group is now threatening to wage a "low-intensity war" against the impending London Olympics. In a statement posted on the anarchist website 325.nostate the FAI stated, " In the United Kingdom of clockwork control and domestication, we're some of the 'unpatriotic ones' who find the 2012 Olympics, with the ensuing spectacle of wealth . . . frankly offensive. We have no inhibition to use guerrilla activity to hurt the national image and paralyze the economy however we can. Because simply, we don't want rich tourists ' we want civil war."

Last Friday, a potentially more ominous communication was received by the Italian newspaper Il Giornale in Milan. The letter announced that the "dawn of the new revolution was here" and called for attacks on politicians, bankers and reporters. It was signed by the Red Brigades.

That almost forgotten fire is threatening to come back to life. The embers are beginning to glow.

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Updated Jan 2, 2019 12:29 PM EST | More details


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