At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

17 December 2016

NATO boss seized by Red Brigades

Brigadier-General James L Dozier held for 42 days

General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in  2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
General James L Dozier pictured when he returned to Italy in
2012 for a reunion with the special forces team who freed him
Three years after the kidnap and murder of the former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro shocked Italy and the wider world, terrorists representing the ultra-left group Brigate Rosse - the Red Brigades - returned to the headlines on this day in 1981 with the abduction of the high-ranking United States Army officer James L Dozier.

Brigadier-General Dozier, who was serving in Italy as deputy Chief of Staff of NATO's Southern European land forces, was seized and taken from his apartment in Verona and held for 42 days before being rescued by Italian special forces.

The kidnap took place at between 5.30 and 6pm when four men turned up at the door of the apartment posing as plumbers.  The general was overpowered and then struck over the head before his wife, Judith, who was initially held at gunpoint, was tied up with chains and plastic tape.

According to his wife, 50-year-old General Dozier was then bundled into what she described as a "steamship trunk", which the men carried out to a waiting van.  Mrs Dozier was left in the apartment, alerting neighbours later by banging on the walls.

It was the first time the Red Brigades had held a member of the American military, or any foreign national, although kidnappings were a major element of their strategy, either for  political objectives to raise funds via ransom demands, during the so-called "Years of Lead".

The Italian authorities were hampered in their search for General Dozier by a succession of calls by people purporting to know where he was being held, including one from an Arabic-speaking caller in Beirut.  Police carried out numerous searches of premises in Verona, Venice and Trento, but all the supposed tip-offs turned out to be hoaxes.

However, they eventually received information that was genuine and an apartment in Padua became the focus of the search.

The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il  Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The front page headline in the Rome newspaper Il
Messaggero the day after General Dozier was freed
The apartment was kept under surveillance for three days before a team of 13 officers from the Nucleo Operativo Centrale Sicurezza, led by Major Eduardo Perna, captured the building on the morning of January 28, 1982.

Six officers secured the perimeter of the apartment block before Major Perna led six others in forcing their way in.

Inside, they found General Dozier chained by his right wrist and left ankle to the central pole of a small tent.  He was barefoot, gagged and wearing a tracksuit but was otherwise unhurt, although he had lost some weight.

There were five Red Brigade members in the apartment, including one who pointed a gun at their captive's head as soon as the raid began.  It later transpired that he had been instructed to kill General Dozier in the event of a rescue attempt but failed to do so.

In fact, all five of his captors - three men and two women - surrendered with little resistance and no shots were fired.  During the 42 days the American was held, the Red Brigades issued a number of messages outlining their complaints but none contained any ransom demand.

The objective of the terrorists seemed to be to extract information from General Dozier, in particular with relation to NATO plans to deploy nuclear missiles in Western Europe, including in Sicily, to counter the threat of Soviet missiles aimed at European cities.

In between interrogation sessions, General Dozier was exposed to constant artificial light and forced to endure loud music played through headphones for hours at a time, which left him with permanent hearing damage.

Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with  General Dozier in 2012
Eduardo Perna pictured at his reunion with
General Dozier in 2012
The Red Brigades gang was led by Antonio Savasta, the head of the terror group's operations in Venice, and included his girlfriend, Emilia Libera.  Police also seized guns, hand grenades, explosives and ammunition in the apartment.  Savasta, who had also played a role in the Aldo Moro abduction, was later sentenced to 16 years in prison.

Using intelligence obtained from the five arrested in the raid, the Italians launched a crackdown on Red Brigades activity soon after General Dozier's release and early the following year 59 of the group's members stood trial for the murders of Aldo Moro and 16 others, with a number of those convicted receiving life sentences.

General Dozier returned to Italy in 2012 for an emotional reunion with Major Eduardo Perna and the other members of his NOCS team.

Travel tip:

The former NATO headquarters in Verona, Caserma Passalacqua, was situated on land between the city's Monumental Cemetery and the University of Verona, less than one kilometre from Piazza Bra and the Arena di Verona.  There are plans to redevelop the Caserma Passalacqua site, which was abandoned in 2004, to include social housing and market housing and to provide the city with its largest park.

Hotels in Verona from

The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
The Arena di Verona undergoes preparation for a concert
Travel tip:

Verona, a city in the Veneto region, has a medieval city centre built alongside the winding Adige River. Famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to the 14th-century building on Via Cappello, with a tiny balcony overlooking a courtyard, which is said to have been Juliet’s house. The city's other major attraction is the Arena di Verona, the vast Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra that stages music concerts and large-scale opera performances.

More reading:

Aldo Moro - Italy's tragic former prime minister

How Moro death and Operation Gladio haunted career of former president Francesco Cossiga

A bombing in Milan and the accidental death of an anarchist

Also on this day:

1749: Birth of 'comic opera' composer Domenico Cimarosa


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