The return of the Red Brigade
Fueling fears of a comeback of domestic terrorism, a passenger on a train to Florence on Sunday fatally shot a policeman in the head and wounded another when the officers checked the identity papers for himself and a companion, authorities said, describing the pair as Red Brigade members wanted in the 1999 slaying of a government adviser.
Italian state TV reported that the companion, a woman in her 40s, refused to answer investigators’ questions in the Tuscan town of Arezzo after she was arrested and taken off the train, declaring only that she was a “political prisoner,” a throwback to the belligerent stance of members of the extreme-left Red Brigade gang, which terrorised Italy in the 1970s and 1980s with kidnappings and assassinations.
Investigators said they were waiting for results of fingerprinting done on the gunman, who was undergoing surgery after a third policeman, rushing to help his colleagues, shot him in the abdomen, but other authorities said they believed the attacker is a Red Brigades member.
State TV quoted investigators as saying the pair was likely planning an attack. Besides the pistol, the couple had in a bag, a miniature camera hidden in a cigarette package, the TV report said. Senate President Marcello Pera praised police “for the capture of the dangerous terrorists” and called for solidarity in the nation to “avoid any gap which terrorist assasins can put to their advantage.”
After a decade of calm when it was widely believed that the Red Brigade had been largely wiped out, two slayings of government advisers since 1999 sparked fears that elements of the old guard and new recruits had combined for a new run.
A passenger, interviewed on state radio, said he was traveling on the largely empty early morning train, which was making local stops between Rome and Florence, when he heard loud voices coming from a passenger compartment.
“The passenger put a gun to the head of one of the policemen and fired,” said the passenger who didn’t give his name. “Then he fired several more shots,” the traveler said, at the second officer, who suffered a serious lung wound.
In Italy, under anti-terrorism legislation enacted when the country was battling domestic terrorism from the extreme right and left in the 1970s and 1980s, police can stop passers-by and travelers, including in cars, and demand to see identification.
“They shot because they were afraid about the checks on the documents, which weren’t clean,” a top national police official, Alessandro Pansa, told reporters, without specifying whether the documents were stolen or if the names on them invented.
A railway police official in Tuscany, Rocco Pellino, told reporters that the train police had called in to Florence train police headquarters for a computer check of the names. “I don’t know if they decided to check the two passengers because they were suspicious or by pure chance,” Pellino said.
RAI state TV said the companion was identified as Nadia Desdemona Lioce (43). Other news reports said the gunman was Mario Galesi (37) and that both were wanted for the 1999 slaying on a Rome street of Massimo D’Antona, a labour reform consultant for the government.
Top anti-terrorism prosecutors and police officials from several cities hurried to Arezzo to follow the new break in the war on domestic terrorism. “Today’s episode doesn’t surprise me at all,” ANSA quoted a Milan anti-terrorism prosecutor, Armando Spataro as saying. “I contend, as I’ve said all along in these years, that there was a visible continuity between the old and new Red Brigades.
He described Lioce as being part of the “old guard.” The killing of D’Antona was the first Red Brigades attack in 11 years. Last year, gunmen in Bologna gunned down another labour reform consultant, Marco Biagi, outside of his apartment building.
Galesi was arrested in 1997 for robbing a post office in Rome but a year later, while on a pass from prison, disappeared.
The Interior Ministry released figures on Sunday indicating that police patrolling trains had stepped up its identity checks of passengers in the last two years as part of Italy’s increased security measures following the September 11 attacks.
Noting Lioce had been in France in the past, Enzo Bianco, the head of the Italian Parliament’s oversight committee on secret services called for stepped-up attention by investigators both home and in contacts abroad.
“With all probability, the two were preparing an attack,” Bianco said. He said the Red Brigade and an associated terrorist group, the Fighting Communist Party “could broaden the scope of their possible targets, in the case of war in Iraq” to include military targets. - Sapa-AP