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A Brief History of Terrorism in Italy

To understand what is going on and why, the history of terrorism in Italy often needs to be taken into account when acts of terrorism occur in Italy. Here’s information on recent acts of terrorism which is followed by a look at the history of terrorism in Italy.

Recently, after two suspected acts of terrorism, Italy’s secret services are warning that further terrorist attacks are highly likely.

One of the recent suspected acts of terrorism in Italy was the shooting of a nuclear power industry manager in Genoa and then there was a bomb which killed a high school pupil in Brindisi.

Last week, the offices of Italian news agency Ansa received a letter purporting to be from the New Red Brigades.  The letter stated that attacks on Mario Monti’s fascist government and those who represent Italy’s establishment were planned.  Students and workers, say the letter, will not be objectives.   Although the authenticity of the document is being questioned, worries that an escalation in terrorist activities very much remain.

Responsibility for the shooting of the nuclear industry manager was claimed by the FAI or Informal Anarchist Federation.  As you may have read in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, the same group has vowed to wage ‘low level warfare’ on the 2012 Olympics in London.

There are signs that a wave of terrorism is about to hit Italy once again as it did between the late 1960s and the early 1980s in a period known as the ‘Years of Lead’.

The ‘Years of Lead’ period occurred after Italy’s low key civil war.  Italian writer Giovanni Fasanella claimed that a kind of clandestine civil war took place in Italy just after the Second World War.  This covert warfare took place between those who wanted Italy to become a communist state and those who opposed such a transformation.  At the time, the highly anti-communist United States was reputedly pulling strings in Italy and, along with the UK, had set up the covert Operation Gladio.

Whether the fear of communism is still justified today is arguable, although former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi exhibited a certain amount of paranoia with regard to the communist threat.  Acts of terrorism during Berlusconi’s reign were few and far between.

History of Terrorism in Italy – the Players

Terrorism, though, is nothing new in Italy.  Italy’s post war history is riddled with bombings, assassinations and kidnappings.  When one delves into the history of terrorism in the Boot, five key players become evident:

  • Communists – The Red Brigades.
  • The Extreme right – fascists.
  • Anarchists.
  • Organized crime – the mafia in all its flavors.
  • Power-mongers – politicians and wealthy industrialists.

Further digging reveals that the relationships between each, if not all, of these players existed.  Indeed, these relationships are highly complex.

The communist terrorists were, relatively, independent operators, or so at first sight, it seems.  The same could also be said of the anarchists, although both groups may well have been influenced by the power-mongers who, some in Italy believe, may have allowed, or even encouraged, certain attacks and kidnappings to take place.

The extreme right-wing terrorists, and there were (possibly still are) many factions, such as the Ordine Nuovo, Avanguardia Nazionale or Fronte Nazionale, appeared to be closely linked to the power-mongers.  Those power-mongers who held political power apparently employed Italy’s secret services to infiltrate and influence the actions of left, right, and anarchist terrorists.  Acts of so called ‘false flag’ terrorism are suspected.

Organized crime, probably in the name of protecting its own interests, acted as a kind of mercenary force and may have been engaged by the power-mongers to carry out certain acts of terrorism.  It is suspected that the assassinations of the anti-mafia investigators Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino were ‘encouraged’ by the power-mongers, even if the attacks themselves were carried out by the mafia.  The as yet unrevealed name of an Italian secret service agent has come up in ongoing investigations into the killings.  That the killings of the two judges were in the interests of the mafia is indisputable.  Indeed, Falcone and Borsellino were making good progress into unraveling the mafia and the names of senior Italian politicians and others had come up in their investigations.  The elimination of Falcone and Borsellino could well have come about as a result of the creation of an unholy marriage of convenience, or else the wedding had occurred long before.  Both parties to this ‘marriage’ vowed to eliminate the judges.  It is not known whether the mafia plus power-monger marriage ever ended in divorce.

In addition to infiltrating Italy’s secret services, to plot their take over of Italy the power-mongers formed their own secret societies – the P2, and suspected contemporary equivalents, the P3 and P4. Each of the Ps tends to lean towards the extreme right and deep into Fascism territory.  Members of the Ps held positions of power in Italy’s government, public administration, media, and military.  A list of some of the members of the P2 is here.

Covert Take Over of Italy

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The take-over of Italy was to be a slow covert affair which employed a dash of violence here and there, the reverberations of which would ensure certain people were appointed to certain positions until total control had been achieved.  Some of those people did make it into positions of power as can been seen from the list of P2 members.

The Strategy of Tension

Key to history of terrorism in Italy is the deliberate use of violence employed during Italy’s so-called ‘lead years’. The use of terrorism was part of the theoretical ‘strategy of tension’.  Many aspects of terrorism in Italy are ‘suspected’ or ‘theoretical’, little is clear.  You will have noted copious use of the word ‘suspected’ in this article.  Even today it is unclear exactly who was behind which attacks.  Italy’s government has been very slow to release documents chronicling all the investigations and some trials regarding incidents in the 1970s have yet to end.

It is suspected (that word again), though has never really been proven, that the strategy of tension was employed primarily by Italy’s far right: those who were sad to see the end of Mussolini.  Supposedly, the far right’s aim was to provoke of a kind of eternal state of emergency in Italy.  Troops, loyal to P2 associates, supposedly protecting the populace would be everywhere and at some point a latter day Mussolini-clone would emerge and ‘save’ Italy.  Berlusconi and several of his cabinet members were open admirers of Benito Mussolini.

It could be argued that violent attacks, such as the Bologna station bombing, provided the power-mongers with the perfect excuse for the introduction of laws to further their ends and friendly journalists and newspaper editors would then ensure the benefits of such laws were highlighted.  In short, Italians were being terrorized and manipulated, though few realized what what going on.

Part of the history of terrorism in Italy - The Bologna Station Bombing
Part of the history of terrorism in Italy – The Bologna Station Bombing

For those angling for power in Italy, it really did not matter who carried out bombings and assassinations.  What was important was to create an atmosphere of abject terror.  The path for a dictatorial government’s to rise to power would be clear once levels of fear peaked.  Luckily for Italy, the path, despite bloody attacks never became clear enough.  Maybe.

The overriding impression is that behind terrorism in Italy are far-right leaning power-mongers who would like the nation to return to a form of fascism.  Such people care little that the lives of innocents will be lost.  Men, women, and children are but pawns to the ruthless players of power games in Italy.

Was Berlusconi’s Rise to Power Part of the Plot?

What did happen immediately after the ‘Years of Lead’ period though, is that Italy became much more corrupt.  The discovery that Craxi had been lining his pockets with public cash and the bribesville and ‘clean hands’ investigations may have paved the way for Silvio Berlusconi to launch his political career, even if Berlusconi’s first attempt to grab power was very short lived owing to the effects of democracy.

Maybe, and this is pure speculation, through the installation of Berlusconi as prime minister, the power-mongers did achieve their aim.  Where bombs failed, corruption did the trick.  Was Berlusconi supposed to be the new fascist dictator?

Though he has denied it, it is probable Silvio Berlusconi was a P2 member and a membership card in his name was found.  He would have been an obvious choice as a member as he has the right qualifications  – far right sympathizer and the owner of a national television network.  Berlusconi has demonstrated that he is highly adept using television to alter the mindset of Italians.  In the days before the internet, the only sources of information for Italians were newspapers, radio and television.  So effective were Berlusconi’s media control methods that he has managed to have himself elected to the position of Prime Minister in Italy several times.  During his reign, Berlusconi controlled around 85% of Italy’s media.  Those who dared criticize Berlusconi or his government were banned from Italy’s airwaves or else mud was thrown.

War on Communism Over

While the terrorists of old could use the war against the dreaded communists as an excuse for certain actions, the Soviet Union no longer exists.  And Silvio Berlusconi is very good friends with Russian president Vladimir Putin.  This means that the prime reason for terrorism in Italy now can only be the installation a dictator.

Berlusconi has now gone, almost, but terrorism worries seem to be growing by the day.  The head of CGIL, Italy’s biggest union, Susanna Camusso believes a return to the strategy of tension is in the air.  Some Italians suspect there may be a connection between the ousting of Berlusconi and the increase of terrorist activity in Italy.

What does seem to stand out amidst all the intrigue and complexity is that whenever Italy attempts to introduce reform or implement change, terrorism rears its ugly head. This can be seen over and over again when delving into the history of terrorism in Italy.

I will end this relatively brief look at terrorism in Italy with a grim prediction:  More bombs will go off and more people will be killed.  What I cannot predict is whether the attempts of the covert factions to take over Italy will prevail. Or maybe they did and nobody has realized it.


Feature photo of Bologna station bombing by Beppe Briguglio, Patrizia Pulga, Medardo Pedrini, and Marco Vaccari.

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