Showing posts with label NAR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NAR. Show all posts

6 January 2023

Piersanti Mattarella - assassination victim

President’s brother assumed to have been killed by Mafia

A newspaper front page reports the murder of the politician amid claims of terrorist involvement
A newspaper front page reports the murder of the
politician amid claims of terrorist involvement
The politician Piersanti Mattarella, whose brother, Sergio, is the current President of Italy, was shot dead on this day in 1980.

The 44-year-old Christian Democrat, who was president of the regional government of Sicily, was about to drive to Epiphany mass from his home in Via della Libertà in Palermo when a gunman or gunmen appeared at the side of his car.

Mattarella was shot at point blank range in front of his wife, Irma, their daughter Maria, and his wife’s mother, who were passengers in his Fiat 132. Sergio, at that time a lecturer at the University of Palermo, was called by his nephew, Bernardo, who had not been in the car. He was one of the first on the scene after the shooting and took his brother to hospital. His efforts were in vain; Piersanti was already dead.

Yet the identity of his killers was never established and doubts surrounding the motives for the attack never completely removed.

There was every reason to suspect Piersanti had been the victim of a Mafia assassination because of his drive to clean up political corruption on the island. His ambition was to break the cosy relationships the Mafia enjoyed with too many politicians, mostly in his own party. 

Piersanti had vowed to clean
up corruption in Sicily
His late father, also called Bernardo, who served as a government minister on the mainland in six administrations between 1953 and 1963, was himself accused on more than once occasion of having links with the Cosa Nostra, although none was ever proved.

Piersanti was aware that public works contracts inevitably went to Mafia-linked companies. He passed a law forcing Silician contractors to adhere to the same building standards used in the rest of Italy, which had the effect of making many of the Mafia's building schemes illegal.

But shortly after the murder had taken place, a claim for responsibility was reportedly made on behalf of a right-wing terrorist group, Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari, which later in the year would be blamed for the worst terrorist atrocity in Italian history, the bombing of Bologna railway station, which killed 85 people.

Vehemently anti-communist, NAR might have had a credible motive, too. Mattarella had been an admirer of Aldo Moro, the politician who had been a central figure in the so-called Historic Compromise that brought about a political accommodation between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in the 1970s. Moro was kidnapped and killed in 1978.

Mattarella had sought and gained support from the PCI in Sicily when, as newly elected president in 1978, he sought to govern as head of a centre-left coalition. Although the role of the PCI was at that time external, their involvement in any form was viewed in Sicily, as on the mainland, as a step closer to direct participation in government, which those on the far right in Italian politics were determined to prevent.

Mattarella's Fiat 132 car, its windows blown out by gunshots, at the side of Via della Libertà
Mattarella's Fiat 132 car, its windows blown
out by gunshots, at the side of Via della Libertà
It was this hypothesis that formed the basis of an investigation into the killing by Giovanni Falcone, the anti-Mafia magistrate who would himself be murdered in 1992. He concluded that the killing of Piersanti Mattarella was carried out by Giuseppe Valerio Fioravanti and Gilberto Cavallini, two prominent NAR operatives.

Fioravanti, more often known as Giusva, was in Palermo at the time and his description matched that provided by Irma Mattarella, Piersanti’s widow, of one of the two involved in the attack.

But when, in 1995, Fioravanti and Cavallini eventually came to court to face charges, they were both acquitted for lack of evidence.

Meanwhile, during the 1993 trial of former prime minister Giulio Andreotti over alleged Mafia associations, a Mafia pentito - turncoat - by the name of Francesco Marino Mannoia, named four mafiosi - Salvatore Federico, Francesco Davì, Santo Inzerillo and Antonio Rotolo - as the killers, and pointed the finger at the 10 members of the Sicilian Mafia Commission, which purported to control criminal activity on the island, for ordering the murder. Andreotti, Mannoia said, had privately appealed to Mafia bosses not to kill Mattarella.

However, although all the members of the Commission, including the notoriously ruthless Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina (whose elevation to capo di tutti capi - boss of all bosses - on the island began a bloody campaign to eliminate high-profile opponents), were convicted of the murder in 1995, Mannoia’s evidence was considered unreliable and none of the alleged physical killers was convicted.

Speculation remains that both the Mafia and the NAR were involved, with the latter perhaps carrying out the assassination on behalf of the mob in return for money or favours. But the theory remains unproven.

Sergio Mattarella, who was elected President of the Italian Republic for the first time in 2015 and re-elected in 2022, has said he decided to enter politics after his brother’s assassination, having previously been content with his career as a lawyer and academic. 

A memorial was placed close to the spot where Piersanti Matterella was killed
A memorial was placed close to the spot
where Piersanti Matterella was killed 
Travel tip:

Via della Libertà, where Piersanti Mattarella lived, is a long, straight road in the centre of Palermo, the Sicilian capital, linking the junction of Viale della Croce Rossa and Viale Diana with Via Dante. Stretching for just over 2.5km (1.2 miles), it passes the Parco Piersanti Mattarella, formerly called the Giardino Inglese, an area of gardens that dates back to 1851 and has been subsequently renamed in memory of the former politician. A memorial to Mattarella has been mounted at the side of the road close to his former home. Flowers are placed there at a ceremony each year on the anniversary of his death.

The harbour at Castellammare del Golfo, where Piersanti Mattarella was born
The harbour at Castellammare del Golfo,
where Piersanti Mattarella was born
Travel tip:

Castellammare del Golfo, where Piersanti Mattarella was born, is a fishing town and tourist resort in the province of Trapani on the northern coast of Sicily, about 65km (40 miles) by the coast road to the west of Palermo. Although Mattarella was on the side of law and order, the town is noted for having been the birthplace of many American Mafia figures, including Salvatore Maranzano, Stefano Magaddino, Vito Bonventre, John Tartamella and Joseph Bonanno. It takes its name from its castle overlooking a gulf, which dates back to the Arab occupation of Sicily in the ninth century and was fortified by the Normans in the 11th century. It originally sat right on the edge of the gulf at sea level, surrounded by water and connected to the land by a drawbridge.

Also on this day:

1695: The birth of oboe player Giuseppe Sammartini

1819: The birth of painter Baldassare Verazzi

1907: The first Montessori school opens in Rome

1938: The birth of singer Adriano Celentano

2016: The death of actress Silvana Pampanini

Befana - Italy’s 6 January tradition


2 August 2018

Bologna railway station bombed

Biggest terrorist atrocity in Italy's history killed 85

The scene outside Bologna Railway Station in the aftermath of the explosion on August 2, 1980
The scene outside Bologna railway station in the aftermath
of the explosion on August 2, 1980
Italy suffered the most devastating terrorist outrage in its history on this day in 1980 with the bombing of Bologna's main railway station.

A massive 23kg (51lbs) of explosive packed into a suitcase left in a crowded waiting room was detonated at 10.25am, creating a blast that destroyed much of the main building of the station and badly damaged a train on one of the platforms.

Many people, locals and tourists, Italians and foreign nationals, were caught up in the explosion. Some were killed instantly, others died as a result of the roof of the waiting room collapsing on to the victims. There were 85 deaths and more than 200 other people were wounded.

The bomb was clearly placed to cause mass casualties. It was the first Saturday in the traditional August holiday period, one of the busiest days of the year for rail travel, and the explosive-laden suitcase was left in a room with air conditioning, then still relatively rare in Italy. On a hot day, the room was naturally full of people.

The station clock is now permanently set at the exact time the bomb exploded on that fateful Saturday morning
The station clock is now permanently set at the exact time
the bomb exploded on that fateful Saturday morning
The attack was the deadliest of several during a bleak period of 10-12 years in Italian history that became known as the Years of Lead, when the ideological struggle between the left and right in Italian politics was at its height.

It began with the killing of a Milan policeman in a far-left demonstration in November 1969 followed a few weeks later by a number of bomb attacks in Rome and Milan, the biggest of which killed 17 people in a bank in Piazza Fontana, not far from the Milan cathedral.

There were several more bombings in the years that followed and countless assassinations of policemen, military personnel, government officials and other prominent public figures, the most high profile of which was the kidnap and murder of former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978. In all, it has been calculated that the Years of Lead claimed the lives of 428 people.

Although the killings continued after the Bologna Massacre, they happened with much less frequency after 1980 than in the three years leading up to the bombing, which has led some commentators to regard the August 2 attack as effectively bringing to an end the darkest period in Italian history since Fascism.

The tangled remains of the waiting room roof after the blast
The tangled remains of the waiting
room roof after the blast
As is almost always the case in Italy, the process of identifying the perpetrators and bringing justice was a long and torturous process.

Although the Ansa news agency received a call within minutes of the bomb going off, purporting to claim responsibility on behalf of a right-wing terrorist group known as Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Corps), it was seven years before anyone was brought to trial and 10 more years before a series of trials, appeals, acquittals and retrials finally resulted in the confirmed conviction for murder of two NAR members, Valerio Fioravanti and Francesca Mambro.

Even now, conspiracy theories still persist over who else might have been involved with the planning and execution of the massacre.

In an era when the Italian Communists were as close to winning power, or a share of power, in the government of the country as they have been at any stage in their history, most of the outrages carried out during the Years of Lead were attributed either to extreme left-wing groups such as the Red Brigades and Prima Linea or to far-right organisations such as Ordine Nuovo, Terza Posizione and NAR.

The attack in Bologna was seen as symbolic because it targeted a city with a history of of left-wing politics along with a strong civic culture and a tradition of supporting the Partisans and rejecting Fascism.

Valerio Fioravanti, pictured in police custody, was one of two terrorists eventually jailed for carrying out the attack
Valerio Fioravanti, pictured in police custody, was one of two
terrorists eventually jailed for carrying out the attack
But many commentators have theorised that behind the NAR, darker forces many have been at work, possibly involving the Italian government and its secret services via the secret movement known as Operation Gladio, or even the subversive Masonic organisation labelled Propaganda Due, of which countless civil servants, military personnel, policemen and politicians were secretly members.

It was even suggested that the Israeli secret services might have supported the attack to punish Italy for a perceived sympathetic stance towards the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The finger of suspicion was pointed at Gladio because of revelations years after the bombing that this was an organisation, in effect a shadow army, that had been put in place at the end of the Second World War, with the tacit backing of the United States, to act initially as a force primed to react to any invasion by forces from the Eastern Bloc, which Italy bordered, but later to prevent, by any means, the Italian Communist Party from forming a government, which it was feared would turn Italy into a de facto Soviet satellite.

None of these theories was ever proven, although three figures connected with Italy’s military intelligence service SISMI, along with P2 grand master Licio Gelli, were convicted during the course of the trials of supplying false information likely to mislead the investigation.

The memorial at Bologna Station to the victims of the 1980 bombing
The memorial at Bologna station to the
victims of the 1980 bombing
Travel tip:

Memorial services at which to remember the 85 victims of the Bologna Massacre are held each year, with a march and a concert in Piazza Maggiore, right at the centre of the city.  There is a plaque carrying the names of all the victims, who ranged from three years old to 86, while the clock inside the station has been stopped at 10.25am as a mark of respect for those killed. The reconstructed wall to which the plaque is attached has a jagged-edged gap left in it.

The beautiful Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
The beautiful Piazza Maggiore in Bologna
Travel tip:

The history of Bologna, one of Italy's most historic cities, can be traced back to 1,000BC or possibly earlier, with a settlement that was developed into an urban area by the Etruscans, the Celts and the Romans.  The University of Bologna, the oldest in the world, was founded in 1088.  Bologna's city centre, which has undergone substantial restoration since the 1970s, is one of the largest and best preserved historical centres in Italy, characterised by 38km (24 miles) of walkways protected by porticoes.  At the heart of the city is the beautiful Piazza Maggiore, dominated by the Gothic Basilica of San Petronio, which at 132m long, 66m wide and with a facade that touches 51m at its tallest, is the 10th largest church in the world and the largest built in brick.

More reading:

December 12, 1969: The Piazza Fontana bombing

How magistrate Felice Casson revealed the existence of Operation Gladio

The kidnapping of ex-prime minister Aldo Moro

Also on this day:

1854: The birth of author Francis Marion Crawford

1945: The death of opera composer Pietro Mascagni