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State Terrorism

1980: Massacre in Bologna, 85 dead

The emotions that cruel terrorist attacks can generate are not good advice for a moment of reflection. In the past, this kind of attacks plunged Europe into mourning. It happened in Bologna (Italy) in 1980 and in Moscow in 1999. In both cases, the claiming of responsibility for the attacks was false and the people accused were not guilty. In this kind of investigation, all hypotheses have to be analyzed seriously, even the most incredible ones, like that of the “tension strategy”. The Italian example showed that it was the very Italian state, supported by NATO, who directed the attacks to create a confrontation between the Italian people and the Communists. Today, it is useless to resort to the specter of the “red danger”. However, there is the “Islamic danger”. Thus far, there is nothing that allows favoring this trail.

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The bombs have just exploded in Madrid on March 11, 2004, when the Spanish Interior Minister, even before the beginning of the investigation, already named those responsible for the attacks: the Basque pro-independence organization ETA. A few hours later, other authorized voices also accused Al Qaida. All television networks interrupted their usual programming to cover the attack, drawing conclusions based on these two hypotheses. So, all of them played the game of disinformation thus favoring the true ringleaders whom we still don’t know. Why? Because, losing their sangfroid and their cool and letting their emotions take control, these media outlets and government officials repeated thousands of accusations that will not help in clarifying what happened in Madrid but they teach us about the prejudices of those who made them.

Historical Precedents

The role of a journalist should be, mainly, to analyze the events using his own internal logic, to study the terrorists’ modus operandi and their targets, to see what is at stake and who benefits from the crime and what it may represent. For that, the journalist uses comparative studies of historical precedents. Thus, blaming a Basque group for an operation of this magnitude, only because it took place in Spain, is thoughtless and unreliable.

However, that is what the highest officials of the ruling party of Spanish President Aznar said. We have to recall, before anything else, that the deadliest attacks in Europe in the last sixty years, like the one in Moscow (250 dead in September 1999) and the one in a train station in Bologna, Italy (85 dead in 1980), were wrongly and quickly attributed to opposition members or fanatics although those attacks matched a predetermined logic: “the tension strategy”.

Thus far, nothing indicates that this theory applies for the Madrid attacks. It is not about chasing this hypothesis instead of others. No trail should be disregarded, that is the most important thing. But recalling the attacks that took place in Italy may help us understand a little bit the recent events in Madrid.

Like in the attacks in Madrid, the target of the bomb that exploded on August 2nd, 1980, in the train station of Bologna (Italy) was the railroad. On that occasion the attack left 85 people dead and 150 wounded. The bomb was planted in the waiting room of the second-class passengers. It was August and it was an important intersection point of the national railroad traffic. The objective was to kill as many passengers as possible. The target was the common people: Bologna was a bastion of the Italian Communist party. In Madrid, the trains attacked were mainly used by a sector of the working class of the suburbs who come from the working-class neighbourhoods. They were the target of the terrorist attacks.

In their investigation about the attack in Bologna, the Italian judges, with a vast experience in the matter as a consequence of dealing for year with violence and terrorism orchestrated in complicity with the Italian state, quickly went after the trail of the extreme right. However, the Italian secret services of General Santovito [1] did everything possible to move the judges away from the good trails giving them false and wrong information. According to the magistrates, whose version is registered in the files of the Court of Justice of November 23rd, 1995, «the SISMI sent us a lot of information that was hardly verifiable in order to lead us into exhausting and unproductive tracks and/or investigations».

The Bologna tragedy was the peak of a long list of deadly attacks that took place in Italy since the early 1970s. One of the first attacks took place on December 12, 1969. On that day, in Milan, at 16:37, a bomb destroyed the hall of the Bank of Agriculture killing 16 people and wounding 88. A few minutes earlier, an employee in the Italian Commercial Bank found a black briefcase with a bomb inside whose detonating system did not work. Twenty minutes later, in Rome, a second explosion took place in the National Labor Bank wounding 16 people. At 17:22 and 17:30, two other bombs exploded: one, in front of the Monument of the Dead in Rome, and the other at the entrance of the Risorgimento Museum in Piazza Venezia. Fortunately, this second wave of attacks left only four people wounded.

Presumption of Guilt

Did these synchronized attacks came from the extreme left, the extreme right or from other conspirators? The investigators immediately blamed the Italian anarchists for the four explosions. In a telex sent by the Italian Interior Minister, on December 13, 1969, to all European police services, the Italian authorities affirmed that «(our) first suspicions aim at the anarchist circles». After the commotion of the events, police searched in all the headquarters of leftist organizations and also in some of the extreme right, but avoiding the two most important: the Ordine Nuovo (New Order) and the Avanguardia Nazionale (National Vanguard). The press talked about the «incredible campaign against the leftist extremists» [2].

The investigation was very quick: almost a dozen of anarchists who were members of the “Bakunin” and “March 22” circles were arrested. Police said there were strong presumptions against them. The main suspect was Pietro Valpreda, an anarchist and a career dancer. Some of his friends were arrested after the attacks carried out in Milan on April 25, 1969, against the Fiat pavilion in the Fair of Milan and another against the bureau de change in the central station. A witness miraculously showed up to accuse him: it was Cornelio Rolandi, a taxi driver, who later confessed to Valpreda’s defense attorney that the Police Chief of Milan had told him whom he had to recognize as guilty. Member of the Communist Party and of the MSI, an Italian neo-fascist party, this man died the following year due to a «sudden pneumonia without fever», thus adding his name to a long list of suspicious deaths. Valpreda’s alleged accomplice, Giusepe Pinelli, an anarchist railroad worker, was defenestrated following an interrogation. This dramatic episode inspired Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo to write his famous work Accidental death of an anarchist.

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The clues led to the extreme right and, above all, to the Italian Counter-Espionage Office (SIO) and the participation of Mario Merlino and Stefino Delle Chiaie, well-known fascists. But these clues were buried and forgotten. However, As Fréderic Laurent wrote: «Neo-fascism is a reality. For those who have studied it, it is even a more worrying reality than the phantasmagorical “terrorist international” which is regularly portrayed by certain media as a terrifying threat with a terrifying future, with their powerful bosses leading from the darkness, in Moscow, Tripoli, or Pyongyang» [3] .

The Strategy of Tension

From a distance, the end of World War II seems to be real beginning of the massive use of terror by the states in order to destabilize their own democratic systems and to limit the individual liberties. Thus, «far from being an isolated event, the massacre of Bologna was the peak of a planned destabilization offensive of the Italian parliamentary regime. This “strategy of tension”, as a journalist of the Observer named it, is exemplary because, since 1968, it turned Italy into a real laboratory for the right’s subversion and because it shows the techniques used by the extreme right, the means they have and the support that may obtain from a faction of the state apparatus» [4] .

The “strategy of tension” can be defined as a campaign whose objective is creating a collapse of order and law and, consequently, generating a crisis of the citizens’ trust in the democratically elected government thus creating the necessary conditions for a military or authoritarian force to assume power. It can also create a security psychosis among the population so that they advocate for more authoritarian political organizations. In Italy, because of the terrorist attacks and the political violence of extreme left groups and, especially, of neo-fascist groups who had the approval of the authorities [5], Italy adopted a series of legislative and police regulations particularly disrespectful of individual liberties.

It was the case of the Reale law, passed on May 22, 1975, which gave the police preponderance over the magistracy. The police was enabled to carry out investigations or arrest any suspect without a warrant from a judge and interrogations could take place without the presence of a defense attorney or any legal representative. This violated Article 3 of the Constitution regarding equality before the law [6]. In 1979, the Cossiga decree-law extended the preventive detention period for cases related to terrorism and authorized wire-tapping. Similar regulations have been reactivated in the United States and in several allied countries after September 11, 2001, with the US Patriot Act and other anti-terrorist laws adopted in Great Britain, Germany and Canada. In France, after the approval of the Perben II law and the reinforcement of the Vigipirate Plan, the police have exceptional powers in the framework of the counter-terrorist fight [7].

Mobilizing Public Opinion against a Scapegoat

If the executors of the Italian attacks have been identified and, sometimes, condemned, we still ignore the names of the brains behind them. At the most, we can affirm that this strategy had been determined by the secret services of the Atlantic Alliance, not disregarding the possibility that the mastermind could have lost control over the perpetrators, who were generally members of the fascist extreme right, where they were recruited and who acted in complicity with agents working in the high levels of the Italian state. For the NATO services and also for the neo-fascists, the Italian people were not aware of the red danger and it was necessary to make them suffer to mobilize them against the Communists because, according to them, the Italian people “were unable to perceive the reality”.

This way of thinking was not exclusive of the Atlantic secret services. The attacks that began in Moscow in 1999, when Vladimir Putin took power, were attributed to the Chechens. Later, officials of the FSB (former KGB, Soviet Intelligence) admitted that it was actually the work of their officials who were pressuring the government to re-launch the war - something they achieved. Whatever it may have been, what makes this kind of attacks different from others, is that their priority is to create strong emotional reactions in order to mobilize public opinion against a scapegoat.

These examples encourage us to be cautious and prudent before accusing anyone for the attacks in Madrid and also in the verification of any eventual attack claiming.

[1] He climbed to the top spot of the SISMI (Italian Intelligence) thanks to the Masonic lodge P2, of which he was a member. In 1982 he was removed from his post as a result of a scandal in that brotherhood. He died in 1984 in Florence as a consequence of an operation but his death is considered the result of a murder camouflaged by the Parliament’s Investigation Commission on the P2

[2] The Black Orchestra, by Frédéric Laurent, Stock Publishing House, 1978

[3] Ídem

[4] Ídem

[5] About the series of terrorist attacks that shocked the country, mainly attributed to the extreme left of the epoch (Red Brigades, anarchists, or other groups), a 1981 report by the Interior Ministry affirmed that 67.55% of the terrorist attacks carried out in Italy from 1969 to 1980 could be attributed to the extreme right, 26.5% to the extreme left, and 5.95% to other organizations

[6] “Justice of ‘Lead’ in Italy”, by Anne Schimel, Le Monde Diplomatique, April 1998

[7] For a more detailed information about legislation adopted after September 11, see «Le Top 15 des États les plus liberticides» by Group of Unchanging Liberties (Human Rights Watch,Reporters sans frontiers)

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