Cirillo kidnap

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On April 27, 1981, the Red Brigades kidnapped the 60-year-old Christian Democrat (DC) politician Ciro Cirillo and killed his two-man escort in the garage of his Naples apartment building. At the time Cirillo directed reconstruction efforts in Campania devastated by the earthquake in the Irpinia region on November 23, 1980.[1][2] He was released after a controversial deal with the Camorra.

Natural target[edit]

Cirillo, photographed during his kidnapping by the Red Brigades.

Cirillo was a key figure in the Campanian regional DC hierarchy. He was the right-hand man of Antonio Gava – one of the national leaders of the Doroteo faction of the DC –, responsible for appointments and public works contracts, and someone who knew a great deal about all the ‘behind the scenes’ deals of local Neapolitan politics. As the regional councillor for urban planning, he was in charge of the reconstruction after the 1980 earthquake.[3] Cirillo was, therefore, a natural target for the Neapolitan column of the Red Brigades led by Giovanni Senzani (it).[4][5]

After two and a half months, the Red Brigades threatened to execute Cirillo unless the Naples city government accepted demands it refused in the past.[6] The Red Brigades demanded that the authorities requisitioned housing for thousands of Naples families left homeless by the earthquake. They also demanded increased benefits for the unemployed.[7] None of the political demands of the Red Brigades were met and in the end they accepted that a ransom was enough to release Cirillo.[8]


He was released after 89 days on July 25, 1981, against the payment of a ransom of one and a half billion lire, thanks to the decisive intervention of Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo.[4] Publicly the Christian Democrats had refused to negotiate with terrorists, but privately leading politicians such as Antonio Gava and Vincenzo Scotti, and members of the secret services, such as Pietro Musumeci, visited Cutolo in prison and asked him to negotiate with imprisoned members of the Red Brigades.[9][10]

In return, Cutolo allegedly asked for a slackening of police operations against the Camorra, for control over the tendering of building contracts in Campania (a lucrative venture since the devastating earthquake in November 1980) and for a reduction of his own sentence – as well as new psychiatric test to show that he is not responsible for his actions. Both these last concessions were granted.[11]


Cutolo overplayed his hand in the Cirillo affair. His former political protectors turned and provided their support to Carmine Alfieri, his main rival in the bloody 1981-83 Camorra war between Cutolo’s Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO) and the Nuova Famiglia. When Cutolo’s main ‘military’ chief, Vincenzo Casillo was killed in January 1983 by the allies of Alfieri, it was clear Cutolo not only had lost his political protection but the war as well. Many other Camorra gangs understood the shift in the balance of power caused by the death of Casillo. They abandoned the NCO and allied themselves with Alfieri.[12]

The outcome of the Cirillo kidnap stood in sharp contrast to the kidnap of the Italian former Prime Minister Aldo Moro. When Moro was abducted by the Red Brigades in 1978, the Christian Democrats in government immediately took a hardline position: the "State must not bend" on terrorist demands. They refused to negotiate with the Red Brigades, while local Christian Democrats in Campania made every effort and even negotiated with criminals to release Cirillo, a relatively minor politician in comparison with Moro.


  1. ^ Italian Terrorists Kidnap Politician and Kill 2 Guards, The New York Times, April 28, 1981
  2. ^ (Italian) Cirillo, i misteri del sequestro "La mia verità è dal notaio", La Repubblica, April 12, 2001
  3. ^ Behan, See Naples and Die, pp. 135-36
  4. ^ a b Allum & Allum, The resistible rise of the new Neapolitan Camorra, p. 240
  5. ^ "I misteri dell'affare Cirillo" (in Italian). 
  6. ^ Red Brigades Threaten Captive’s Life, The New York Times, July 10, 1981
  7. ^ Terrorists Threaten To Kill Hostage In Italy, UPI, July 16, 1981
  8. ^ Behan, See Naples and Die, p. 141
  9. ^ Stille, Excellent Cadavers, p. 77-78
  10. ^ Behan, See Naples and Die, p. 139
  11. ^ Haycraft, The Italian Labyrinth, p. 214
  12. ^ Behan, See Naples and Die, pp. 151-54