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In the late 1960s, Italy endured a period of socio-political turmoil that lasted until the late 1980s. This new wave of terrorism, initially called Opposti Estremismi, and later renamed "The Years of Lead" after the film Marianne and Juliane by Margarethe von Trotta, was characterized by widespread social conflict and unprecedented acts of terrorism carried out by right and left-wing paramilitary groups. The assassination of the Christian Democrat (DC) leader Aldo Moro in 1978 by the Second Red Brigades led by Mario Moretti, ended the so-called "historic compromise" between the DC and the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Nearly 1500 homicides were attributed to political violence in from 1969 to 1981 in the form of bombings, targeted assassinations and street'warfare between rival militant factions. Though political violence has decreased exponentially in Italy, the re-emergence of anti-immigrant neo-fascist and militant communist groups gives way to instances of sporadic violent crimes being committed to this day.



An attempt to include the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in the Tambroni government led to rioting, and was short-lived. The Christian Democrats were instrumental to the Socialist party gaining power in the 1960s, and the Christian Democrats accepted a coalition.

A left-wing autonomist movement, in the wake of student unrest, lasted from 1968 until the end of the 1970s. This period became known as the anni di piombo ("years of lead") from a wave of violence, ignited by the shooting death of Antonio Annarumma in 1969 and the Piazza Fontana bombing, variously attributed to the far-right, to the far-left, and to the secret services.

1969 Public Protests

Public protests, in which the autonomist student movement was particularly active, shook Italy during 1969, leading to the occupation of the Fiat automobile factory in Milan. Mario Capanna of the New Left movement, was prominent at the time, along with members of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia (Antonio Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Franco Piperno), and Lotta Continua (Adriano Sofri).

1969 Death of Antonio Annarumma

On November 19, 1969, Antonio Annarumma, a Milanese policeman, was assassinated during a riot of far-left demonstrators.[1][2] He was the first public official to die in the ensuing wave of violence, initially called Opposti Estremismi, and later renamed "The Years of Bullets".

1969 Piazza Fontana bombing

In December in Rome, the Monument of Vittorio Emanuele was bombed along with the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, and in Milan the Banca Commerciale Italiana and the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura were also struck. The last bombing, known as the Piazza Fontana bombing of 12 December 1969, killed 16 and injured 90.

Local police arrested 80 or so suspects in left-wing circles, including Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist who was initially blamed for the bombing, and Pietro Valpreda. Their guilt was hotly denied by left-wing agitators, especially by members of the student movement, whom at the time were prominent in Milan's universities: they were convinced that the bombing was committed by fascists. Following the death of Giuseppe Pinelli who "accidentally fell out of a window" on December 15 while in police custody, the radical left-wing newspaper Lotta Continua initiated a campaign accusing police officer Luigi Calabresi of the murder of Pinelli. The accusation of wrongful death at the hands of the police was eventually found, by the state, to be false, but only after many years of investigation.

Meanwhile, the anarchist Valpreda and 5 other anarchists were convicted and jailed for the bombing, and were later released after three years of preventive detention. Over a 36-year period numerous suspects were investigated, with no convictions. The definitive identity of the perpetrators remains a mystery to this day.

The Red Brigades, the most prominent far-left terrorist organization, conducted a secret parallel inquiry to the official inquiry, internal to the terrorist organizations.[3]- The Red Brigades ordered that the inquiry remain secret, due to the unfavorable light that it would shed on other terrorist organizations. The inquiry was discovered after a fire-fight between "Red Brigade" forces and Italian Police (Carabinieri) at Robbiano di Mediglia in October 1974. The cover-up was exposed in 2000, by President Giovanni Pellegrino.[4]

1970 The Golpe Borghese

In December 1970, a neofascist coup dubbed the Golpe Borghese was organized. It was planned by several far-right figureheads and supported by members of the Corpo Forestale dello Stato, along with the backing of right-aligned entrepreneurs and industrialists. The "Black Prince", Junio Valerio Borghese, took part in it. The coup was called off at the last moment, and was discovered by the press and decried publicly a few months later.

1971 Assassination of Alessandro Floris

On March 26, 1971 Alessandro Floris was assassinated in Genoa, by a unit of the Gruppo XXII Ottobre, a far-left terrorist organization. An amateur photographer casually took a photo of the killer. The photo enabled the police to identify the terrorists. The group was investigated, with more members arrested. Some members fled to Milan, and joined the GAP “Gruppi di Azione Partigiana” (GAP) and later the Red Brigades.[5]

The Red Brigades considered the group Gruppo XXII Ottobre as a precursor, and years later, on April 1974, it kidnapped the judge Mario Sossi in hopes of freeing the member previously arrested. The effort was not successful.[6] Years later, the Red Brigades killed the justice Francesco Coco-judge on June 8, 1976 out of revenge, along with two escort policemen, Giovanni Saponara and Antioco Deiana.[7]

1972 Assassination of Luigi Calabresi

On May 17, 1972, police officer Luigi Calabresi, recipient of the gold medal of the Italian Republic for civil valour, was assassinated in Milan. Authorities first focused on suspects in Lotta Continua, before detaining two neofascist activists, Gianni Nardi and Bruno Stefano, along with the German Gudrun Kiess, in 1974. They were ultimately released. Sixteen years later, Adriano Sofri, Giorgio Petrostefani, Ovidio Bompressi and Leonardo Marino, were arrested in Milan, on the grounds of confession to the murder by Leonardo Marin. Their highly controversial trial finally established their guilt of organizing and carrying out the murder.[8]

1972 Peteano bombing

On May 31, 1972, three carabinieri were killed in Peteano in a bombing, blamed at the time on Lotta Continua by officers of the carabinieri, some of whom were later indicted and convicted for diverting the investigation in false directions.[9] Judge Casson identified Ordine Nuovo member Vincenzo Vinciguerra as the culprit who had planted the Peteano bomb.

The neofascist terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, arrested in the 1980s for the bombing in Peteano, declared to magistrate Felice Casson that this false flag attack had been intended to force the Italian state to declare a state of emergency and to become more authoritarian. Vinciguerra explained how the SISMI military intelligence agency had protected him, allowing him to escape to Franquist Spain.

Casson's investigation revealed that the right-wing organization Ordine Nuovo had collaborated with the Italian Military Secret Service, SID (Servizio Informazioni Difesa). Together, they had engineerred the Peteano terror and then wrongly blamed the militant extreme Italian left, the Red Brigades. He confessed and testified that he had been covered by an entire network of sympathizers in Italy and abroad who had ensured that after the attack he could escape. "A whole mechanism came into action", Vinciguerra recalled, "that is, the Carabinieri, the Minister of the Interior, the customs services and the military and civilian intelligence services accepted the ideological reasoning behind the attack." [10][11]

1973 The Primavalle Fire

An April 16, 1973, attack by members of Potere Operaio on the house of neo-fascist MSI militant Mario Mattei resulted in his two sons, aged 20 and 8 years old, being burned alive.

1973 bombing of Milan Police command (Questura di Milano)

During a 17 May 1973 ceremony honouring Luigi Calabresi, in which the Interior Minister was present, an anarchist named Gianfranco Bertoli threw a bomb which killed four and injured 45.

In 1990, it was discovered that Bertoli, who had been convicted for the bombing, was an SID informant and member of Gladio. The secret services claimed that this was only a coincidence. A magistrate investigating the assassination attempt of Mariano Rumor found that Bertoli's files were incomplete.[9] General Gianadelio Maletti, head of the SID from 1971 to 1975, was convicted in absentia in 1990 for obstruction of justice in the Mariano Rumor case.

1974 Piazza della Loggia bombing

In May 1974, a bomb exploded during an anti-fascist demonstration in Brescia, killing 8 and wounding over 90. In 2005, the Court of Cassation issued an arrest warrant against Delfo Zorzi, a former Ordine Nuovo member, who is currently in Japan.

An attempted neo-fascist coup in July 1974

Count Edgardo Sogno revealed in his memoirs that in July 1974, he visited the CIA station chief in Rome to inform him of preparations for a neo-fascist coup. Asking what the US government would do in case of such a coup, Sogno wrote that he was told, "the United States would have supported any initiative tending to keep the communists out of government." General Maletti declared, in 2001, that he had not known about Sogno's relationship with the CIA and had not been informed about the coup, known as Golpe bianco (White Coup), led by Randolfo Pacciardi.[12]

1974 Arrest of Vito Miceli, chief of the SIOS and SID

General Vito Miceli, chief of the SIOS military intelligence agency in 1969, and head of the SID from 1970 to 1974, was arrested in 1974 on charges of "conspiracy against the state." Following his arrest, the Italian secret services were reorganized by a 24 October 1977 law in an attempt to reassert civilian and parliamentary control over the intelligence agencies. The SID was divided into the current SISMI, the SISDE and the CESIS, which was to directly coordinate with the Prime Minister of Italy. Furthermore, an Italian Parliamentary Committee on Secret services control (Copaco) was created at the same time.

1974 arrest of Red Brigade leaders and reorganization of far-left groups

In 1974, some leaders of the Red Brigades, including Renato Curcio and Alberto Franceschini, were arrested, but the new leadership continued the war against the Italian right-wing establishment with increased fervor.

The year before, Potere Operaio had disbanded, although Autonomia Operaia carried on in its wake. Lotta Continua also dissolved in 1976, although the magazine struggled on for several years. From remnants of Lotta Continua and other groups, the terror organization Prima Linea emerged.

1976 Prima Linea: an emerging terrorist organization

On April 29, 1976, Enrico Pedenovi was killed in Milan by the organization Prima Linea. This was the first assassination conducted by Prima Linea.[13]


  • On March 12, 1977 Turin policeman Giuseppe Ciotta was killed by far left terrorist organization Prima Linea.[14]
  • On May 14, 1977 in Milan, some activists from a far left organization pulled out their pistols and began to fire on the police, killing policeman Antonio Custra.[15] A photographer took a photo of an activist shooting at the police. This year was called the time of the "P38" (referring to Walther P38 pistol).

1978 Aldo Moro's murder

On March 16, 1978, five escort agents were murdered and Aldo Moro kidnapped, and on May 9 was murdered, by the Red Brigades, a militant leftist group then led by Mario Moretti. Before his murder, Moro, a left-leaning Christian Democrat, several times Prime Minister, was trying to include the Communist Party, headed by Enrico Berlinguer, in the government, with a deal called the Historic Compromise. The PCI was the largest communist party in western Europe. This was largely due to their non-extremist and pragmatic stance, their growing independence from Moscow and their new eurocommunist doctrine. The PCI was especially strong in areas like Emilia Romagna, where they had stable government positions and matured practical experience, which may have contributed to a more pragmatic approach to politics. The Red Brigades was fiercely opposed by the Communist Party and the trade unions, even if a few left-wing politicians used the condescending expression "comrades who do wrong" (Italian: Compagni che sbagliano). The circumstances of Aldo Moro's murder have never been made clear, although the consequences were clear: the PCI didn't gain executive power.

Investigative journalist Carmine Pecorelli was assassinated on March 20, 1979. He had drawn connections in a May 1978 article between Aldo Moro's kidnapping and Gladio [16].

Moro's assassination was followed by a large clampdown on the social movement, including the arrest of many members of Autonomia Operaia, including , Oreste Scalzone and political philosopher Toni Negri.

1979 A year with more assassinations

  • On January 19, 1979, Turin policeman Giuseppe Lorusso was killed by Prima Linea organization.[17]
  • On January 29, 1979, Emilio Alesandrini was killed in Milan by Prima Linea.[18]
  • On March 9, 1979 University student Emanuele Iurilli was killed in Turin by Prima Linea.[19]
  • On July 13, 1979 in Druento (Turin), policeman Bartolomeo Mana was killed by Prima Linea .[20]
  • On July 18, 1979, Carmine Civitate was killed in Turin, by Prima Linea.[21]
  • On September 21, 1979 Carlo Ghiglieno was killed in Turin by a group of Prima Linea.[22]

1980 More assassinations

  • On February 5, 1980, in Monza, Paolo Paoletti was killed by Prima Linea.[23][24]
  • On February 12, 1980, in Rome, at the "La Sapienza" University, Vittorio Bachelet, vice-president of the Superior Council of Magistrates and former president of the Azione Cattolica, was killed by the Red Brigades.
  • On March 19, 1980, in Milan, Judge Guido Galli was killed by a group of Prima Linea.[25]
  • On April 10, 1980, in Turin, Giuseppe Pisciuneri a Mondialpol guard, was killed by [[Ronde Proletarie.[26]
  • On August 2, 1980, a bomb killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 in Bologna.

Known as the Bologna massacre, the blast destroyed a large portion of the city's railway station. This was found to be a fascist bombing, mainly organized by the NAR, who had ties with the Roman criminal organization Banda della Magliana.

1981 The kidnapping of James Lee Dozier

On December 17, 1981 James L. Dozier, an American general and the deputy commander of NATO's South European forces based in Verona, was kidnapped by Red Brigades. He was freed in Padova on January 28, 1982 by the NOCS (the Italian police's anti-terrorist task force).

1982 The Salerno Massacre

On October 21, 1982, a group of Red Brigade terrorists attacked a bank in Turin and killed two guards, Antonio Pedio[27] and Sebastiano d'Alleo[28]. On August 26, 1982, a group of Red Brigade terrorists attacked a military troop convoy, in Salerno. In the attack, Corporal Antonio Palumbo and policemen Antonio Bandiera and Mario De Marco were killed. The terrorists escaped.

1984 Train bombing

On December 23, 1984, one bomb in a train between Florence and Rome killed 16 and wounded more than 200. The mafiosi Giuseppe Calo and four others defendants were convicted to life imprisonment in 1989 for the latter. According to the prosecutors, the far-right had conspired with the mafia and the Camorra to carry out this attack [29].

1987 Assassination of General Licio Giorgieri

On March 20, 1987, Licio Giorgieri, a General of Italian Air Force, was assassinated by the Red Brigades in Rome.

1988 Assassination of Roberto Ruffilli

On April 16, 1988, Senator Roberto Ruffilli was assassinated in an attack by a group of Red Brigades in Forlì.

1999 Assassination of Massimo D'Antona

On May 20, 1999, Massimo D'Antona, consultant of Work Minister, was assassinated in a attack by a group of terrorists of the Red Brigade, group BR-PCC, in Rome.

2002 Assassination of Marco Biagi

On March 19, 2002, Marco Biagi, consultant of Work Minister, was assassinated in a attack by a group of terrorists of the Red Brigade, in Bologna.

2003 Assassination of Emanuele Petri

On March 2, 2003, Emanuele Petri, Stats-policeman, was assassinated by a group of terrorists of the Red Brigade, near Castiglion Fiorentino.

2005 - 2009 : New Red Brigades

In 2005 some suspected terrorists were arrested, know as the New Rote Brigade (Nuove Brigate Rosse). On 13 June the court in Milan (corte d'Assise) condemned 14 terrorists. The leader was condemned to 15 years in jail. 3 suspected terrorist were found not guilty. Probably the condemned will appeal.

Asylum in France Mitterrand doctrine

The Mitterrand doctrine is established in 1985 by François Mitterrand. It concerns Italian far-left terrorists who fled to France, stating that those convicted for violent acts in Italy, but excluding "active, actual, bloody terrorism" during the "Years of Lead" would not be extradited to Italy, and instead granted political asylum in France, to be integrated into French society.

The act was declared in April 21, 1985, at the 65th Congress of the Human Rights League (LDH), stating that Italian criminals who had broken with their violent past and had fled to France would be protected from extradition to Italy:

"Italian refugees (...) who took part in terrorist action before 1981 (...) have broken links with the infernal machine in which they participated, have begun a second phase of their lives, have integrated into French society (...) I told the Italian government that they were safe from any sanction by the means of extradition".[30]

Asylum in Nicaragua

Some Italian terrorists find political asylum in Nicaragua.

Some terrorist organizations in Italy

The theory of strategy of tension

Many aspects of the "lead years" are still shrouded in mystery, and debate is still going in regard to some aspects. There were many who spoke, especially among the left, of the existence in those years of a strategia della tensione. According to the theory, occult and foreign forces were involved in this "strategy of tension", among whom Gladio, a NATO secret anti-communist structure, the P2 masonic lodge, discovered in 1981 following the arrest of its leader Licio Gelli, and fascist "black terrorism" organizations such as Ordine Nuovo or Avanguardia Nazionale, Italian secret services as well as the United States.

This theory reemerged in the 1990s, following Prime minister Giulio Andreotti's recognition of the existence of Gladio before the Parliamentary assembly on 24 October 1990. Furthermore, juridical investigations concerning the Piazza Fontana bombing and the Bologna massarce, in particular by Milan prosecutor Guido Salvini — who indicted a US Navy officer, David Carrett, for his role in the Piazza Fontana bombing, and surprised in 1995 Carlo Rocchi, CIA's man in Italy, searching for information concerning the case in the mid-1990s — and several parliamentary reports pointed towards such a deliberate strategy of tension.

In 2000, a Parliament Commission report from the Olive Tree left-of-center coalition concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country".[31][32][33]

Giorno della memoria dedicato alle vittime del terrorismo

On May 4, 2007 the Italian Parliament declared the day May 9 as the memorial day dedicated to the victims of terrorism[34] The office of Republic President, Giorgio Napolitano, presented in this occasion a book, with a list of the victims of terrorism:

  • Per le vittime del terrorismo nell’Italia repubblicana - Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato Libreria dello Stato - Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato S.p.A. - I.S.B.N. 978-88-240-2868-4

See also


  1. ^ 1981/1969annarumma.htm
  2. ^
  3. ^ it:Inchieste di Robbiano di Mediglia Inquiry of the Red Brigades in Italy Wikipedia
  4. ^ it:Commissione Stragi "Commissione Stragi" in Italy Wikipedia
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian. Marginal Notes and a Late-Twentieth-century Miscarriage of Justice, London 1999, ISBN 1-85984-371-9. Original ed. 1991.
  10. ^ Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies. Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, Franck Cass, London, 2005, pp.3-4
  11. ^ "Strage di Piazza Fontana spunta un agente USA". La Repubblica. February 11, 1998. Retrieved 2007-02-20.  (With original documents, including juridical sentences and the report of the Italian Commission on Terrorism) (Italian)
  12. ^ Philip Willan, The Guardian, March 26, 2001. Terrorists 'helped by CIA' to stop rise of left in Italy (English)
  13. ^
  14. ^]]
  15. ^
  16. ^ Moro's ghost haunts political life, The Guardian, May 9, 2003
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ ‘Paolo Paoletti’, AIVITER.
  24. ^ Presidenza della Repubblica, Per le vittime del terrorismo nell’Italia repubblicana: ‘giorno della memoria’ dedicato alle vittime del terrorismo e delle stragi di tale matrice, 9 maggio 2008 (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2008), page 132, ISBN 978-88-240-2868-4
  25. ^ ‘Guido Galli’, AIVITER.
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Italy Convicts 7 in Bombing of Train Fatal to 16 in 1984, Associated Press, on The New York Times, February 26, 1989
  30. ^ Les réfugiés italiens (...) qui ont participé à l'action terroriste avant 1981 (...) ont rompu avec la machine infernale dans laquelle ils s'étaient engagés, ont abordé une deuxième phase de leur propre vie, se sont inséré dans la société française (...). J'ai dit au gouvernement italien qu'ils étaient à l'abri de toute sanction par voie d'extradition (...).
  31. ^ (Italian) "Commissione parlamentare d'inchiesta sul terrorismo in Italia e sulle cause della mancata individuazione dei responsabili delle stragi (1995 Parliamentary Commission of Investigation on Terrorism in Italy and on the Causes of the Failing of the Arrests of the Responsibles of the Bombings)". 1995. Retrieved 2006-05-02. 
  32. ^ (Italian) "Strage di Piazza Fontana - spunta un agente Usa". La Repubblica. February 11, 1998. Retrieved 2006-05-02.  (With links to juridical sentences and Parliamentary Report by the Italian Commission on Terrorism)
  33. ^ (English)/(Italian)/(French)/(German) "Secret Warfare: Operation Gladio and NATO's Stay-Behind Armies". Swiss Federal Institute of Technology / International Relation and Security Network. Retrieved 2006-05-02. 
  34. ^


  • Anna Cento Bull and Adalgisa Giorgio (dir.) Speaking Out and Silencing: Culture, Society and Politics in Italy in the 1970s (2006) ISBN 978-1-904350-72-9
  • Giovanni Fasanella Giovanni Pellegrino : La guerra civile. A book of President of anti-terrorism Commission of Italian Parliament.
  • Per le vittime del terrorismo nell’Italia repubblicana - Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato Libreria dello Stato - Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato S.p.A. - I.S.B.N. 978-88-240-2868-4 -Edited from The office of Republic President

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