Years of Lead (Italy)

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Years of Lead
Part of the Cold War
Attack at the Bologna railway station; it was the deadliest episode of the Years of Lead.
Date 1968 – 1982
Location Italy (mainly Northern Italy)

Decrease of the terrorism in Italy:


Italy Italian Government

Supported by:
 United States
 West Germany

Main far-left terrorist groups:
Flag of the Brigate Rosse.svg Red Brigades
Front Line
October 22 Group
Continuous Struggle

Supported by:
 Soviet Union

Main far-right terrorist groups:
ANazionale.svg National Vanguard
Black Order
Third Position

Supported by:
Commanders and leaders
Casualties and losses
Around 500-1,000 civilians and officer killed
Part of a series on the
History of Italy
Emblem of Italy
Italy portal

The Years of Lead was a period of socio-political turmoil in Italy that lasted from the late 1960s into the early 1980s, marked by a wave of terrorism. Among the possible origins of the name are a reference to the vast number of bullets fired,[1] or the 1981 film Marianne and Juliane by Margarethe von Trotta, of which the Italian title is Anni di piombo.

The left-wing autonomist movement lasted from 1968 until the end of the 1970s. The "years of lead" began with the shooting death of the policeman Antonio Annarumma in 1969 and the Piazza Fontana bombing[citation needed].

Widespread unrest of 1960s and 1970s[edit]

There was widespread social conflict and unprecedented acts of terrorism carried out by both right- and left-wing paramilitary groups. An attempt to endorse the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) by the Tambroni Cabinet led to rioting and was short-lived.[citation needed] Widespread labor unrest and the collaboration of countercultural student activist groups with working class factory workers and pro-labor radical leftist organizations such as Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua culminated in the so-called autunno caldo, or "Hot Autumn" of 1969, a massive series of strikes in factories and industrial centers in Northern Italy. Student strikes and labor strikes, often led by leftist or Marxist activists, became increasingly common, often deteriorating into clashes between the police and demonstrators composed largely of students, workers, activists, and often left-wing militants.[citation needed] The Christian Democrats (DC) were instrumental in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) gaining power in the 1960s and they created a coalition. The assassination of the Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro in 1978 ended the strategy of historic compromise between the DC and the Italian Communist Party (PCI). The assassination was carried out by the Red Brigades, then led by Mario Moretti. Between 1969 and 1981, nearly 2,000 murders were attributed to political violence in the form of bombings, assassinations, and street warfare between rival militant factions. Although political violence has decreased substantially in Italy since that time, instances of sporadic violent crimes continue because of the re-emergence of anti-immigrant, neo-fascist, and militant communist groups.

In 2000, a Parliamentary Commission report from The Olive Tree (l'Ulivo), a centre-left political coalition, concluded that the strategy of tension had been supported by the United States to "stop the PCI, and to a certain degree also the PSI, from reaching executive power in the country".

On 4 May 2007 the Italian Parliament declared 9 May as a memorial day dedicated to the victims of terrorism.[2]



The Mitterrand doctrine, which was established in 1985 by then French president François Mitterrand, stated that Italian far-left terrorists who fled to France and who were convicted of violent acts in Italy, excluding "active, actual, bloody terrorism" during the "Years of Lead", would receive asylum and would not be subject to extradition to Italy. They would be integrated into French society.

The act was announced on 21 April 1985, at the 65th Congress of the Human Rights League (Ligue des droits de l'homme, LDH), stating that Italian criminals who had given up their violent pasts and had fled to France would be protected from extradition to Italy:

Italian refugees... who took part in terrorist action before 1981... have broken links with the infernal machine in which they participated, have begun a second phase of their lives, have integrated into French society... I told the Italian government that they were safe from any sanction by the means of extradition.[3]


Some Italian citizens accused of terrorist acts have found refuge in Brazil such as Cesare Battisti and others former members of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, a far-left militant and terrorist group which committed acts of illegality and crimes in Italy during the period known as "Years of Lead".


Some Italian far-left activists found political asylum in Nicaragua, including Alessio Casimirri, who took part in the kidnapping of Aldo Moro.



Public protests[edit]

Public protests shook Italy during 1969, with the autonomist student movement being particularly active, leading to the occupation of the Fiat automobile factory in Milan. Mario Capanna of the New Left movement, was prominent at the time, along with members of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia (Antonio Negri, Oreste Scalzone, Franco Piperno), and Lotta Continua (Adriano Sofri).

Death of Antonio Annarumma[edit]

On 19 November 1969, Antonio Annarumma, a Milanese policeman, was assassinated during a riot of far-left demonstrators.[4][5] He was the first public official to die in the ensuing wave of violence referred to as "The Years of Lead".

Piazza Fontana bombing[edit]

The Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro in Rome and the Banca Commerciale Italiana and the Banca Nazionale dell'Agricoltura in Milan were bombed in December.

Local police arrested 80 or so suspects from left-wing groups, including Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist initially blamed for the bombing, and Pietro Valpreda. Their guilt was denied by left-wing members, especially by members of the student movement, then prominent in Milan's universities, as they believed that the bombing was carried out by fascists. Following the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, who died on 15 December while in police custody, the radical left-wing newspaper Lotta Continua started a campaign accusing police officer Luigi Calabresi of Pinelli's murder.[citation needed] The accusation of wrongful death at the hands of the police was eventually determined to be false by the state, but only after many years of investigation.

Meanwhile, the anarchist Valpreda and five others were convicted and jailed for the bombing. They were later released after three years of preventive detention. Over a 36-year period, numerous suspects were investigated, with no convictions. The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown to this day.

The Red Brigades, the most prominent far-left terrorist organization, conducted a secret internal investigation that paralleled the official inquiry.[6] They ordered that the inquiry remain secret, because of the unfavorable light that it could shed on other terrorist organizations. The inquiry was discovered after a fire-fight between Red Brigade forces and Italian police (carabinieri) at Robbiano di Mediglia in October 1974. The cover-up was exposed in 2000, by then Italian President Giovanni Pellegrino.[7]


The Golpe Borghese[edit]

In December, a neo-fascist coup, dubbed the Golpe Borghese, was planned by several far-right leaders and supported by members of the Corpo Forestale dello Stato, along with the right-aligned entrepreneurs and industrialists. The "Black Prince", Junio Valerio Borghese, took part in it. The coup, called off at the last moment, was discovered by the press, and publicly released a few months later.[citation needed]


Assassination of Alessandro Floris[edit]

On 26 March 1971 Alessandro Floris was assassinated in Genoa, by a unit of the October 22 Group, a far-left terrorist organization. An amateur photographer had taken a photo of the killer that enabled police to identify the terrorists. The group was investigated and more members arrested. Some fled to Milan and joined the "Gruppi di Azione Partigiana" (GAP) and later the Red Brigades.[8]

The Red Brigades considered the group Gruppo XXII Ottobre its predecessor and in April 1974, it kidnapped Judge Mario Sossi in an effort to free the arrested member. The effort was unsuccessful.[9] Years later, the Red Brigades killed the judge Francesco Coco on June 8, 1976 out of revenge, along with his two police escorts, Giovanni Saponara and Antioco Deiana.[10]


Assassination of Luigi Calabresi[edit]

On 17 May 1972, police officer Luigi Calabresi, recipient of the gold medal of the Italian Republic for civil valour, was assassinated in Milan. Authorities initially focused on suspects in Lotta Continua, before detaining two neo-fascist activists, Gianni Nardi and Bruno Stefano, along with the German Gudrun Kiess, in 1974. They were ultimately released. Sixteen years later, Adriano Sofri, Giorgio Petrostefani, Ovidio Bompressi, and Leonardo Marino were arrested in Milan following Marino's confession to the murder. Their trial finally established their guilt in the organisation and carrying out the murder.[11]

Peteano bombing[edit]

On 31 May 1972, three Italian Carabinieri were killed in Peteano in a bombing, blamed on Lotta Continua. Officers of the Carabinieri were later indicted and convicted for manipulating the investigation in false directions.[12] Judge Casson identified Ordine Nuovo member Vincenzo Vinciguerra as the culprit who had planted the Peteano bomb.

The neo-fascist terrorist Vincenzo Vinciguerra, arrested in the 1980s for the bombing in Peteano, declared to magistrate Felice Casson that this false flag attack had been intended to force the Italian state to declare a state of emergency and to become more authoritarian. Vinciguerra explained how the SISMI military intelligence agency had protected him, allowing him to escape to Francoist Spain.

Casson's investigation revealed that the right-wing organization Ordine Nuovo had collaborated with the Italian Military Secret Service, SID (Servizio Informazioni Difesa). Together, they had engineered the Peteano terror and then wrongly blamed the militant Italian far-left, the Red Brigades. He confessed and testified that he had been covered by an entire network of sympathizers in Italy and abroad who had ensured that after the attack he could escape. "A whole mechanism came into action", Vinciguerra recalled, "that is, the Carabinieri, the Minister of the Interior, the customs services and the military and civilian intelligence services accepted the ideological reasoning behind the attack." [13][14]


The Primavalle Fire[edit]

Main article: Primavalle Fire

An 16 April 1973 attack by members of Potere Operaio on the house of neo-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) militant Mario Mattei resulted in his two sons, aged 8 and 20, being burned alive.

Milan Police command (Questura di Milano) bombing[edit]

During a 17 May 1973 ceremony honoring Luigi Calabresi, in which the Interior Minister was present, Gianfranco Bertoli, an anarchist, threw a bomb that killed four and injured 45.

In 1990, it was discovered that Bertoli, who had been convicted of the bombing, was an SID informant and member of Gladio. The secret services claimed that this was only a coincidence. A magistrate investigating the assassination attempt of Mariano Rumor found that Bertoli's files were incomplete.[12] General Gianadelio Maletti, head of the SID from 1971 to 1975, was convicted in absentia in 1990 for obstruction of justice in the Mariano Rumor case.


Piazza della Loggia bombing[edit]

In May 1974, a bomb exploded during an anti-fascist demonstration in Brescia, killing eight and wounding over 90. In 2005, the Court of Cessation issued an arrest warrant against Delfo Zorzi, a former Ordine Nuovo member currently living in Japan.[citation needed]

Planned neo-fascist coup[edit]

Count Edgardo Sogno said in his memoirs that in July 1974, he visited the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) station chief in Rome to inform him of preparations for a neo-fascist coup. Asking what the United States (US) government would do in case of such a coup, Sogno wrote that he was told, "the United States would have supported any initiative tending to keep the communists out of government." General Maletti declared, in 2001, that he had not known about Sogno's relationship with the CIA and had not been informed about the coup, known as Golpe bianco (White Coup), led by Randolfo Pacciardi.[15]

Bombing of Italicus train[edit]

On August 4, 1974, 12 died and 105 were injured in the bombing of the Italicus Roma-Brennero express at San Benedetto Val di Sambro.

Arrest of Vito Miceli[edit]

General Vito Miceli, chief of the SIOS military intelligence agency in 1969, and head of the SID from 1970 to 1974, was arrested in 1974 on charges of "conspiracy against the state."[citation needed] Following his arrest, the Italian secret services were reorganized by a 24 October 1977 law in an attempt to reassert civilian control over the intelligence agencies. The SID was divided into the current SISMI, the SISDE, and the CESIS, which was to directly coordinate with the Prime Minister of Italy. An Italian Parliamentary Committee on Secret services control (Copaco) was created at the same time[citation needed].

Arrest of Red Brigades leaders[edit]

In 1974, some leaders of the Red Brigades, including Renato Curcio and Alberto Franceschini, were arrested, but new leadership continued the war against the Italian right-wing establishment with increased fervor[citation needed].

The year before, Potere Operaio had disbanded, although Autonomia Operaia carried on in its wake. Lotta Continua also dissolved in 1976, although the magazine struggled on for several years. From remnants of Lotta Continua and similar groups, the terror organization Prima Linea emerged.


Prima Linea: an emerging terrorist organization[edit]

On 29 April 1976, Enrico Pedenovi was killed in Milan by the organization Prima Linea. This was the first assassination conducted by Prima Linea.[16]


On 12 March 1977, a Turin policeman Giuseppe Ciotta was killed by far-left terrorist organization, Prima Linea.[17]

On 14 May, in Milan, some activists from a far-left organization pulled out their pistols and began to fire on the police, killing policeman Antonio Custra.[18] A photographer took a photo of an activist shooting at the police. This year was called the time of the "P38", referring to the Walther P38 pistol.


Kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro[edit]

On 16 March 1978, Aldo Moro was kidnapped by the Red Brigades, and five of his bodyguards killed. The Red Brigades were a militant leftist group, then led by Mario Moretti. Aldo Moro was a left-leaning Christian Democrat who served several times as Prime Minister. Before his murder he was trying to include the Italian Communist Party (PCI), headed by Enrico Berlinguer, in the government through a deal called the Historic Compromise. The PCI was the largest communist party in western Europe. This was largely because of its non-extremist and pragmatic stance, its growing independence from Moscow and its eurocommunist doctrine. The PCI was especially strong in areas such as Emilia Romagna, where it had stable government positions and mature practical experience, which may have contributed to a more pragmatic approach to politics. The Red Brigades were fiercely opposed by the Communist Party and trade unions, a few left-wing politicians even used the condescending expression "comrades who do wrong" (Compagni che sbagliano). The circumstances surrounding Aldo Moro's murder have never been made clear, but the consequences included that fact that PCI did not gain executive power.

Investigative journalist Carmine Pecorelli was assassinated on March 20, 1979. In a May 1978 article, he had drawn connections between Aldo Moro's kidnapping and Gladio.[19]

Moro's assassination was followed by a large clampdown on the social movement, including the arrest of many members of Autonomia Operaia, including, Oreste Scalzone and political philosopher Toni Negri.


The year with the most assassinations[edit]

On 19 January 1979, Turin policeman Giuseppe Lorusso was killed by the Prima Linea organization.[20]

On 29 January, Emilio Alesandrini was killed in Milan by Prima Linea.[21]

On 9 March, university student Emanuele Iurilli was killed in Turin by Prima Linea.[22]

On 20 March, investigative journalist Mino Pecorelli was gunned down in his car in Rome. Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti and Mafia boss Gaetano Badalamenti were sentenced in 2002 to 24 years in prison for the murder, though the sentences were overturned the following year.[23]

On 13 July, in Druento (a town near Turin), policeman Bartolomeo Mana was killed by Prima Linea.[24]

On 18 July, Carmine Civitate was killed in Turin, by Prima Linea.[25]

On 21 September, Carlo Ghiglieno was killed in Turin by a group of Prima Linea.[26]


More assassinations[edit]

On 5 February 1980, in Monza, Paolo Paoletti was killed by Prima Linea.[27][28]

On 12 February, in Rome, at the "La Sapienza" University, Vittorio Bachelet, vice-president of the Superior Council of Magistrates and former president of the Roman Catholic association Azione Cattolica, was killed by the Red Brigades[citation needed].

On 19 March, in Milan, Judge Guido Galli was killed by a group of Prima Linea.[29]

On 10 April, in Turin, Giuseppe Pisciuneri a Mondialpol guard, was killed by Ronde Proletarie.[30]

The Bologna Massacre[edit]

Main article: Bologna massacre

On 2 August, a bomb killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 in Bologna. Known as the Bologna massacre, the blast destroyed a large portion of the city's railway station. This was found to be a fascist bombing, mainly organized by the NAR, who had ties with the Roman criminal organization Banda della Magliana[citation needed].


On 17 December 1981, James L. Dozier, an American general and the deputy commander of NATO's South European forces based in Verona, was kidnapped by Red Brigades. He was freed in Padua on 28 January 1982 by the Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza (NOCS), an Italian police anti-terrorist task force.[31]


The Salerno Massacre[edit]

On October 21, 1982, a group of Red Brigades terrorists attacked a bank in Turin, killing two guards, Antonio Pedio[32] and Sebastiano d'Alleo.[33]

On 26 August 1982, a group of Red Brigades terrorists attacked a military troop convoy, in Salerno. In the attack, Corporal Antonio Palumbo and policemen Antonio Bandiera and Mario De Marco were killed. The terrorists escaped[citation needed].


On 23 December 1984, a bomb in a train between Florence and Rome killed 16 and wounded more than 200. In 1989, the mafiosi Giuseppe Calo and four others defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment for the bombing. According to prosecutors, the far-right organizations conspired with the mafia and the Camorra to carry out the attack.[34]


On 20 March 1987, Licio Giorgieri, a general in the Italian Air Force, was assassinated by the Red Brigades in Rome.


On 16 April 1988, Senator Roberto Ruffilli was assassinated in an attack by a group of Red Brigades in Forlì.[citation needed]

Continued violence[edit]

In the late 1990s - early 2000s (decade), a resurgence of Red Brigade terrorism led to the assassination of labour law consultants and experts, Massimo D'Antona and Marco Biagi.

On 20 May 1999, Massimo D'Antona, consultant to the Ministry of Labour, was assassinated in an attack by a group of terrorists of the Red Brigade, group BR-PCC, in Rome.

On 19 March 2002, Marco Biagi, consultant to the Ministry of Labour, was assassinated in an attack by a group of terrorists of the Red Brigade, in Bologna.

On 2 March 2003, Emanuele Petri, state policeman, was assassinated by a group of Red Brigades terrorists, near Castiglion Fiorentino.

In 2005 some suspected terrorists were arrested, known as the New Red Brigades (Nuove Brigate Rosse). On 13 June the court in Milan (corte d'Assise) condemned 14 terrorists. The leader was sentenced to 15 years in jail. Three suspected terrorists were found not guilty.[citation needed]

Terrorist organizations in Italy (incomplete list)[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Westcott, Kathryn (January 6, 2004). "Italy's history of terror". BBC News. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Les réfugiés italiens (...) qui ont participé à l'action terroriste avant 1981 (...) ont rompu avec la machine infernale dans laquelle ils s'étaient engagés, ont abordé une deuxième phase de leur propre vie, se sont inséré dans la société française (...). J'ai dit au gouvernement italien qu'ils étaient à l'abri de toute sanction par voie d'extradition (...).
  4. ^ 1981/1969annarumma.htm
  5. ^ "Nessuna Conseguenza – La Morte di Antonio Annarumma". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  6. ^ it:Inchieste di Robbiano di Mediglia Inquiry of the Red Brigades in Italy Wikipedia
  7. ^ it:Commissione Stragi "Commissione Stragi" in Italy Wikipedia
  8. ^ "Alessandro Floris – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". 1939-10-21. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  9. ^ "Mario Sossi −". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  10. ^ "Francesco Coco – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  11. ^ "Luigi Calabresi – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  12. ^ a b Carlo Ginzburg, The Judge and the Historian. Marginal Notes and a Late-Twentieth-century Miscarriage of Justice, London 1999, ISBN 1-85984-371-9. Original ed. 1991.
  13. ^ Daniele Ganser, NATO's Secret Armies. Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, Franck Cass, London, 2005, pp.3–4
  14. ^ "Strage di Piazza Fontana spunta un agente USA". La Repubblica. February 11, 1998. Retrieved 2007-02-20.  (With original documents, including juridical sentences and the report of the Italian Commission on Terrorism) (Italian)
  15. ^ Philip Willan, The Guardian, March 26, 2001. Terrorists 'helped by CIA' to stop rise of left in Italy
  16. ^ "Enrico Pedenovi – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  17. ^ "Giuseppe Ciotta – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  18. ^ "Antonio Custra – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  19. ^ Moro's ghost haunts political life, The Guardian, May 9, 2003
  20. ^ "Giuseppe Lorusso – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  21. ^ "Emilio Alessandrini – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  22. ^ "Emanuele Iurilli – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  23. ^ "Andreotti, Ex-Italian Premier Linked to Mafia, Dies at 94". Bloomberg. 
  24. ^ "Bartolomeo Mana – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  25. ^ "Carmine Civitate – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  26. ^ "Carlo Ghiglieno – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". 1928-06-27. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  27. ^ ‘Paolo Paoletti’, AIVITER.
  28. ^ Presidenza della Repubblica, Per le vittime del terrorismo nell’Italia repubblicana: ‘giorno della memoria’ dedicato alle vittime del terrorismo e delle stragi di tale matrice, 9 maggio 2008 (Rome: Istituto poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 2008), page 132, ISBN 978-88-240-2868-4
  29. ^ ‘Guido Galli’, AIVITER.
  30. ^ "Giuseppe Pisciuneri – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  31. ^ Collin, Richard Oliver and Gordon L. Freedman. Winter of Fire, Penguin Group, 1990.
  32. ^ "Antonio Pedio – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  33. ^ "Sebastiano D’Alleo – Associazione Vittime del Terrorismo". Retrieved 2010-05-05. 
  34. ^ Italy Convicts 7 in Bombing of Train Fatal to 16 in 1984, Associated Press, on The New York Times, 26 February 1989


  • Anna Cento Bull and Adalgisa Giorgio (dir.) Speaking Out and Silencing: Culture, Society and Politics in Italy in the 1970s (2006) ISBN 978-1-904350-72-9
  • Giovanni Fasanella Giovanni Pellegrino : La guerra civile. A book of President of anti-terrorism Commission of Italian Parliament.
  • Per le vittime del terrorismo nell’Italia repubblicana – Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato Libreria dello Stato – Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato S.p.A. – I.S.B.N. 978-88-240-2868-4 -Edited from The office of Republic President

External links[edit]