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The Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse in Italian, often abbreviated as the BR) were a Marxist-Leninist militant group based in Italy and active, via a number of political assassinations, during the "Years of Lead".

Formed in 1970, the Red Brigades sought to create a revolutionary state through armed struggle and to extract Italy from the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. Their boldest move took place in 1978, when the second groups of the BR, headed by Mario Moretti, kidnapped the former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro killing five men of his entourage and subsequently murdered him 54 days later. The BR barely survived the end of the Cold War following a split in 1984 and the arrest or flight of the majority of its members. In the 1980s, the group was broken up by Italian investigators, with the aid of several leaders under arrest who assisted the authorities in capturing the other members. A majority of those leaders took advantage of a law that gave credits for renouncing the doctrine (pentito status) and contributing to the capture of members on the run.

Contents

1970: the first BR generation

The Red Brigades were founded in August 1970 by Renato Curcio, a student at the University of Trento, his girlfriend Margherita Cagol (Mara Cagol) and Alberto Franceschini.

While the Trento group around Curcio had its main roots in the Sociology Department of the Catholic University, the Reggio Emilia group (around Franceschini) included mostly members and former members of the Communist Youth movement (FGCI, Federazione Giovanile Comunisti Italiani). In the beginning the Red Brigades were mainly active in Reggio Emilia, and in large factories in Milan, (such as Sit-Siemens, Pirelli and Magneti Marelli) and in Turin (Fiat). Members sabotaged factory equipment and broke into factory offices and trade union headquarters. In 1972, they carried out their first kidnapping: a factory foreman who was held for some time but later released.[1]

During this time the Red Brigades' actitivies were denied by far left political groups such as Lotta Continua and Potere Operaio (which were closer to the Autonomist movement). The Red Brigades became far more violent and organised than their contemporaries and began receiving direct and indirect aid from the Czechoslovakian StB. In June 1974, the Red Brigades made its first lethal attack, against two members of the Italian neo-fascist party, Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI) in Padua.

Most of the Italian leftish political parties of the time, including the Italian Communist Party (PCI), denied the Red Brigades' involvement in the murder and even the Red Brigades' existence itself.

1974 arrest of BR founders

In September 1974, Red Brigades founders Renato Curcio and Alberto Franceschini were arrested by General Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. The arrest was made possible by "Frate Mitra," alias Silvano Girotto, a former monk who had infiltrated the BR for the Italian security services.[2] Curcio was freed from prison by an armed commando of the Red Brigades, led by his wife Mara Cagol, but was rearrested some time later.

The Red Brigades then operated some high-profile political kidnappings (e.g., Genoa judge Mario Sossi) as well as kidnapping industrialists (e.g., Vallarino Gancia) in order to obtain ransom money, which was their main source of financing.

Expansion and radicalization of the BR

After 1974, the Red Brigades expanded into Rome, Genoa, and Venice, their numbers grew drastically and began to diversify in its criminal ventures. Bank robberies, kidnappings, drugs and arms trafficking were the major crimes. Its 1975 manifesto stated that its goal was a "concentrated strike against the heart of the State, because the state is an imperialist collection of multinational corporations". The "SIM" (Stato Imperialista delle Multinazionali) became a primary target.

In 1975, the Italian police discovered the farmhouse where industrialist Vallarino Gancia was kept prisoner by the Brigades (Cascina Spiotta). In the ensuing gunfight, two police officers were killed, as was Mara Cagol, Curcio's wife. That following April, the Red Brigades announced that they had set up a Communist Combatant Party to "guide the working class." Terrorist activities, especially against Carabinieri and magistrates, increased considerably, in order to terrorize juries and cause mistrials in cases against imprisoned leaders of the organization. Also, since arrested members of the Brigades refused to be defended by lawyers, lawyers designated by the Courts to defend them ("difensori d' ufficio") were also targeted and killed.

1978 murder of Aldo Moro

Moro, photographed during his detention by the Red Brigades

In 1978, the Second BR, headed by Mario Moretti, kidnapped and murdered Christian Democrat Aldo Moro, who was the key figure in negotiations aimed at extending the Government's parliamentary majority, by attaining a Historic Compromise ("compromesso storico") between the Italian Communist Party and the Democrazia Cristiana. A team of Red Brigades members, using stolen Alitalia airline company uniforms, ambushed Moro, killed five of Moro’s bodyguards and took him captive.

The captors, headed by Moretti, sought the release of certain prisoners in exchange for Moro's safe release. The Government refused to negotiate with the captors, while the various Italian political forces took either a hard line ("linea della fermezza") or a more pragmatic approach ("linea del negoziato"). From his captivity, Moro sent letters to his family, to his political friends, to the Pope, pleading for a negotiated outcome.

After holding Moro for 54 days, the Brigades realized that the Government would not negotiate and, fearful of being discovered, decided to kill their prisoner. They placed him in a car and told him to cover himself with a blanket. Mario Moretti then shot him ten times in the chest. Moro's body was left in the trunk of a car in Via Caetani, a site midway between the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party headquarters, as a last symbolic challenge to the police, who were keeping the entire nation, and Rome in particular, under strict surveillance. Moretti wrote in Brigate Rosse: una storia italiana that the murder of Moro was the ultimate expression of Marxist-Leninist revolutionary action. Original founder Alberto Franceschini wrote that those imprisoned members did not understand why Moro had been chosen as a target.

Aldo Moro's assassination caused a strong reaction against the Brigades by the Italian law enforcement and security forces. The murder of a popular political figure also drew condemnation from other Italian left-wing militant formations and even the imprisoned ex-leaders of the Brigades. The Brigades suffered a loss of support.

A crucial turning point was the murder, in 1979, of Guido Rossa, a member of the PCI and a trade union organizer. Rossa had observed the distribution of BR propaganda and had reported those involved to the police; he was shot and killed by the Brigades, but this attack against a popular trade union organizer totally alienated the factory worker base to which the BR propaganda was primarily directed.

Also, Italian police made a large number of arrests in 1980: 12,000 far-left militants were detained while 300 fled to France and 200 to South America; a total of 600 people left Italy.[3] Most leaders arrested (including, e.g., Faranda, Franceschini, Moretti, Morucci) either retracted their doctrine ("dissociati"), or collaborated with investigators in the capture of other BR members ("collaboratori di giustizia"), obtaining important reductions in prison sentences.

The most well-known collaboratore di giustizia was Patrizio Peci, one of the leaders of the Turin "column". In revenge, the Brigades assassinated his brother Roberto in 1981.

On April 7, 1979, the Marxist philosopher Antonio Negri was arrested along with the other persons associated with the Autonomist movement, including Oreste Scalzone. Padova's Public Prosecutor, Pietro Calogero, accused those involved in the Autonomia movement of being the political wing of the Red Brigades. Negri was charged with a number of offences including leadership of the Red Brigades, masterminding the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro and plotting to overthrow the government. At the time, Negri was a political science professor at the University of Padua, visiting lecturer at Paris' École Normale Supérieure. Thus, French philosophers Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze signed in November 1977 L'Appel des intellectuels français contre la répression en Italie (The Call of French Intellectuals Against Repression in Italy) in protest against Negri's imprisonment and Italian anti-terrorism legislation.[4][5]

A year later, Negri was exonerated from Aldo Moro's kidnapping. No link was ever established between Negri and the Red Brigades and almost all of the charges against him (including 17 murders) were dropped within months of his arrest due to lack of evidence. Aldo Moro's assassination continues to haunt Italy today, and remains a significant event of the Cold War. In the 1980s-1990s, a Commission headed by senator Giovanni Pellegrino investigated acts of terrorism in Italy during the "years of lead," while various judicial investigations also took place, headed by Guido Salvini and other magistrates.[6]

The BR in the 1980s

Most of the BR were dismantled in the 1980s.

Kidnapping of Brigadier General Dozier

On December 17, 1981, four members of the Red Brigades, posing as plumbers, invaded the Verona apartment of US Army Brigadier General James L. Dozier, then NATO Deputy Chief of Staff at Southern European land forces. The men kidnapped General Dozier and left his wife bound and chained in their apartment. [2] He was held for 42 days until January 28, 1982, when an Italian anti-terrorist team rescued him from an apartment in Padua. Dozier was the first American general to be kidnapped by terrorists and the first foreigner kidnapped by the Red Brigades.

Mulinari's 1983 arrest

After the Abbé Pierre's death in January 2007, Italian magistrate Carlo Mastelloni recalled in the Corriere della Sera that the Abbé Pierre had "spontaneously testified" in the 1980s in support of a group of Italian activists who had fled to Paris and were involved with the Hyperion language school, directed by Vanni Mulinaris. Simone de Beauvoir had also written a letter to Mastelloni, which has been kept in juridical archives.[7] Some of those associated with the Hyperion School (which included Corrado Simioni, Vanni Mulinaris and Duccio Berio [8]) were accused by the Italian authorities of being the "masterminds" of the BR, although they were all cleared afterwards.

After Vanni Mulinari's travel to Udine and subsequent arrest by the Italian justice, the Abbé Pierre went to talk in 1983 with Italian President Sandro Pertini to plead Mulinari's cause. Mulinari had been imprisoned on a charge of assisting the BR. The Abbé had even observed eight days of a hunger strike from May 26, 1984 to June 3 in the Cathedral of Turin to protest the conditions suffered by "Brigadists" in Italian prisons and the imprisonment without trial of Vanni Mulinari, who was recognized as innocent some time afterwards. Mulinari's treatment was, according to the Abbé, a "violation of human rights".[9][10][11] La Repubblica specified that Italian justice has recognized the innocence of all people close to the Hyperion School.[12]

Red Brigades-PCC and Red Brigades-UCC 1984 split

In 1984, the Red Brigades had split into two factions: the majority faction of the Communist Combatant Party (Red Brigades-CCP) and the minority of the Union of Combatant Communists (Red Brigades-UCC). The same year, four imprisoned leaders, Curcio, Moretti, Iannelli and Bertolazzi, rejected the armed struggle as pointless.

Also in 1984, the Red Brigades claimed responsibility for the murder of Leamon Hunt, US chief of the Sinai Multinational Force and Observer Group.

In the mid-eighties, arrests increased in Italy. In February 1986, the Red Brigades-PCC killed the ex-mayor of Florence Lando Conti . In March 1987, Red Brigades-UCC killed General Licio Giorgieri in Rome. On April 16, 1988, in Forlì, Red Brigades-PCC killed Italian senator Roberto Ruffilli, an advisor of Italian Prime Minister Ciriaco de Mita. After that, the group activities all but ended after massive arrests of its leadership. The BR dissolved themselves in 1988.[13]

Flight to France

In 1985 some Italian members living in France returned to Italy. The same year, French president François Mitterrand guaranteed immunity from extradition to BR members living in France who had made a break with their past, were not sentenced for violent crimes and had started a new life. In 1998, Bordeaux's appeal court decided that Sergio Tornaghi could not be extradited to Italy, on the grounds that Italian procedure would not let him be judged again, after a trial during his absence. In 2002, however, Paris extradited Paolo Persichetti, an ex-member of the Red Brigades who was teaching sociology, signaling for the first time a departure from the "Mitterrand doctrine". In the 2000s, requests by Italian Justice for extradition from France involved several leftist activists, including Antonio Negri, Cesare Battisti, and others.

While leftists had mostly fled to France, many neofascist activists involved in the strategy of tension, such as Vincenzo Vinciguerra or Stefano Delle Chiaie, fled to Spain; Delfo Zorzi, condemned for the Piazza Fontana bombing, was granted asylum and citizenship in Japan, while others fled to Argentina (in particular Augusto Canchi, wanted by Italian justice for his role in the 1980 Bologna massacre[14]).

The issue of a general amnesty in Italy for these crimes is highly controversial and still source of dispute. Most political forces oppose it and, in particular, the associations of victims of terrorism and their family members are adamantly against it.

New assassinations by new BR generation

A new group, with few links, if any, with the ancient BR, appeared in the late 1990s. The Red Brigades-PCC murdered in 1999 Massimo D'Antona, an advisor to the cabinet of Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema. In March 19, 2002, the same gun was used to kill professor Marco Biagi, an economic advisor to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The Red Brigades-PCC again claimed responsibility. On 3 March 2003 two followers, Mario Galesi and Nadia Desdemona Lioce, started a firefight with a police patrol on a train at Castiglion Fiorentino station, near Arezzo. Galesi and Emanuele Petri (one of the policemen) were killed, Lioce was arrested. In October 23, 2003, Italian police arrested six members of the Red Brigades in early-dawn raids in Florence, Sardinia, Rome and Pisa in connection with the murder of Massimo D'Antona. On June 1, 2005, four members of the Red Brigades-PCC were condemned to life-sentence in Bologna for the murder of Marco Biagi: Nadia Desdemona Lioce, Roberto Morandi, Marco Mezzasalma and Diana Blefari Melazzi.

Several figures from the 1970s, including philosopher Antonio Negri who was wrongly accused of being the "mastermind" of the BR, have called for a new analysis of the events which happened during the "years of lead" in Italy. On the other hand, BR founder Alberto Franceschini declared after his release from an 18-year prison term that "The BR continue to exist because we never proceeded to their funeral," calling for truth from every involved party in order to be able to turn the page.[15]

Statistics

According to Clarence A. Martin, the BR were credited with 14,000 acts of violence in the first ten years of the group's existence.[16] According to statistics by the Ministry of Interior. A total of 75 people are thought to have been murdered by the BR. A majority of the murders were politically motivated, though a number of assassinations of random police and carabinieri officers took place, as well as a number of murders occurring during criminal ventures such as bank robberies and kidnappings.

Allegations of international contacts

According to Ion Pacepa, Red Brigades primary support allegedly came from the Czechoslovak StB and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).[17][18] Soviet and Czechoslovakia small arms and explosives would have came from the Middle East via heroin traffickers along well established smuggling routes.[19] Logistic support and training were allegedly carried out directly by the Czechoslovak StB both in Prague and at remote PLO training camps in North Africa and Syria.[17][20]

According to the Mitrokhin Archives, the Italian Communist Party lodged several complaints with the Soviet ambassador in Rome regarding Czechoslovak support of the Red Brigades, but the Soviets were either unwilling or unable to stop the StB. This was one of several contributing factors in ending the covert relationship that the Italian Communist Party had with the KGB culminating with a total break in 1979.[21]

Italian economist Loretta Napoleoni said in a TED Talk that she spoke to a "part-timer" with the Red Brigades who claimed that he used to sail between Lebanon and Italy during summers, ferrying Soviet weapons for a fee from the PLO to Sardinia where, the weapons were distributed to "other organizations in Europe."[22]

On the other hand, Alberto Franceschini declared to the Commission on terrorism headed by senator Giovanni Pellegrino that some members of the group had been in contact with the MOSSAD.[23]

Recent developments

In October 2007, a former BR commander was arrested after committing a bank robbery while out-of-prison on good conduct terms. Cristoforo Piancone, who is serving a life sentence for six murders, managed to steal €170,000 from the bank Monte dei Paschi di Siena with an accomplice, on October 1, 2007.[24]

See also

Notes

  1. ^ See Giovanni Fasanella and Alberto Franceschini (with an afterword by judge Rosario Priore, who investigated Aldo Moro's death), Che cosa sono le BR [1] ( "BRIGADES ROUGES. L'Histoire secrète des Red Brigades racontée par leur fondateur, Alberto Franceschini. Entretien avec Giovanni Fasanella." Editions Panama, 2005 a review by Le Monde and another review by L'Humanite
  2. ^ Brigate Rosse and Moro Kidnappig: secrets and lies (English)
  3. ^ (French) On the Autonomist movement, Mémoire de maîtrise (Master's degree, now M1), University of Paris X: Nanterre, 2004
  4. ^ Revised bibliography of Deleuze
  5. ^ Gilles Deleuze, Lettre ouverte aux juges de Negri, text n°20 in Deux régimes de fous, Mille et une nuits, 2003 (transl. of Lettera aperta ai giudici di Negri published in La Repubblica on 10 May 1979); Ce livre est littéralement une preuve d'innocence, text n°21 (op.cit.), originally published in Le Matin de Paris on 13 December 1979
  6. ^ Italian Commission on Terrorism headed by Giovanni Pellegrino
  7. ^ «Quel giorno in Tribunale con lui difese i terroristi rossi e l' Hyperion», Corriere della Sera, January 23, 2007 (Italian)
  8. ^ Abbé Pierre, il frate ribelle che scelse gli emarginati, Corriere della Sera, January 23, 2007 (Italian)
  9. ^ L'abbé Pierre, fondateur d'Emmaüs, est mort, necrology in Le Monde of the Abbé Pierre, January 22, 2007 (French)
  10. ^ CAMT. Répertoire papiers Abbé Pierre/Emmaus, on the website of the French Archives Nationales (National Archives) (French)
  11. ^ D'inattendues amitiés brigadistes, Libération, January 24, 2007 (French)
  12. ^ AFP news cable: "ROME, 23 jan 2007 (AFP) - L'Abbé Pierre et les Brigades rouges italiennes : un épisode méconnu" (23/01/2007 16:25), published on La Croix's website here (French)
  13. ^ Paolo Perschichetti, De l’usage sélectif du passé, on Parole donnée (French)
  14. ^ Denuncian que Almirón también participó en la ultraderecha española, Telam Argentine news agency, January 6, 2007 (Spanish)
  15. ^ Giovanni Fasanella and Alberto Franceschini, Che cosa sono le BR (See Paris, capitale des « années de plomb », review of the book in Le Monde, November 30, 2005 (French))
  16. ^ Martin, Clarence Augustus; Gus Martin (2003). Understanding Terrorism. Sage Publications Inc. 
  17. ^ a b Pacepa, Lt Ion Mihai (1990). Red Horizons. Regnery Publishing. 
  18. ^ Terrorist Group Profiles. Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School. 2005. 
  19. ^ Hofmann, Paul (1991). That Fine Italian Hand. Owl Books. 
  20. ^ Luntz, James M; Brenda J Luntz (2004). Global Terrorism. Routledge. 
  21. ^ Andrew, Christopher; Vasili Mitrokhin (2000). The Sword and the Shield: the Mitrokhin archive and the secret history of the KGB. Basic Books. 
  22. ^ Loretta Napoleoni: The intricate economics of terrorism
  23. ^ Mario Moretti, l’Hyperion e la Cia (Italian)
  24. ^ "Released Red Brigader in Heist". ANSA. 2007-10-02. http://www.ansa.it/site/notizie/awnplus/english/news/2007-10-02_102120895.html. 

References

  • Giovanni Fasanella and Alberto Franceschini (with a postface from judge Rosario Priore, who investigated on Aldo Moro's death), Che cosa sono le BR [3] ( "BRIGADES ROUGES. L'Histoire secrète des Red Brigades racontée par leur fondateur, Alberto Franceschini. Entretien avec Giovanni Fasanella." Editions Panama, 2005 a review by Le Monde and another review by L'Humanite
  • A Giovanni Fasanella's bibliography
  • Terrorist Group Profiles, Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School.
  • Antonio Cerella, Il ritorno della violenza - Le BR dal ventennio rosso al XXI secolo, Il Filo, Roma, 2007
  • Amedeo Benedetti, Il linguaggio delle nuove Brigate Rosse, Genova, Erga, 2002, ISBN 88-8163-292-6

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