The clock struck 10:25 am on August 2, 1980, when a bomb exploded at Bologna’s Central Prepare Station. The assault plunged the town, recognized on the time for its left-wing politics and residential to one of many oldest universities on the continent, into chaos. One of many deadliest terrorist assaults in Europe, the explosion had a devastating impact, killing 85 folks and injuring over 200. After years of investigations, trials and false leads, Francesca Mambro and Giuseppe Fioravanti, members of the right-wing terrorist group Armed Revolutionary Nuclei (NAR), had been sentenced to life imprisonment in November 1995. Each, nevertheless, have all the time maintained their innocence.

Many others had been additionally placed on trial, a few of whom ultimately obtained jail sentences for supporting the terrorists or for obstruction of justice. Amongst them had been Licio Gelli, head of the notorious Propaganda Due lodge, and Pietro Musumeci, an officer within the Italian army secret service.

Not All Terrorists Wish to Declare Accountability for Assaults


Regardless of these convictions, the Strage di Bologna, or the Bologna bloodbath, because the assault is now recognized, continues to be a supply of heated debate in Italy, and critical doubts stay as as to whether the masterminds behind the assault have actually been caught. Now and again, for instance, the Italian judiciary points new sentences in reference to the assault. Furthermore, as not too long ago as January this yr, almost 40 years after the incident, Gilberto Cavalli was discovered responsible of aiding and abetting Mambro and Fioravanti.

The continued sentencing appears to substantiate the widespread perception that we nonetheless have no idea the entire story and that Italy has struggled to come back to phrases with this horrible act of terrorism. This state of seeming paralysis is symbolized by the truth that the principle station’s clock has not been changed and, as a reminder for future generations, nonetheless exhibits the precise time of the assault.

A New Lead? The Palestinian Concept

Former politicians, judges and magistrates, in addition to investigative journalists and lecturers, have usually added to the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the assault. Manifold theories in regards to the true masterminds exist, alternately accusing left-wing terrorists, the Mafia or Gladio of getting orchestrated the assault. In 2008, Francesco Cossiga, member of the previous Christian Democratic Celebration (DC) who served as minister of inside between 1976-78 and held the title of prime minister between 1979-80 and president of Italy from 1985 to 1992, forged doubt on the culpability of the neo-fascists.

In an interview with an Israeli newspaper, he argued that the Bologna assault was an act of retaliation by Palestinian terrorists as a result of the federal government in Rome had violated the so-called Lodo Moro — a decades-old secret settlement between Rome and the Palestinian Liberation Organizations (PLO), during which the Palestinians provided to spare Italy from PLO orchestrated terrorist assaults in return for Rome’s diplomatic assist and for permitting the PLO to roam freely in Italy. In July 2016, Rosario Priore, who has investigated right-wing terrorism in Italy for years, propagated Cossiga’s thesis in his guide, “I segreti di Bologna: La verità sull’atto terroristico più grave della storia italiana” (“The Secrets and techniques of Bologna: The Fact Concerning the Most Critical Assault in Italy’s Historical past”).

In accordance with Priore, every little thing began in November 1979 when the Carabinieri arrested three left-wing extremists — Daniele Pifano, Giuseppe Nieri and Giorgio Baumgartner — and a Palestinian man, Abu Anzeh Saleh, for arms smuggling. When the Italian authorities declined to launch Saleh, the Standard Entrance for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) below George Habash contacted Libyan leaders Muammar Gaddafi, who in flip requested the Venezuelan militant Ilich Ramirez Sanchez — higher generally known as Carlos the Jackal — to retaliate in opposition to the Italians. The German Thomas Kram, a member of Carlos’ group, was duly dispatched to Bologna to hold out the bombing. Nevertheless, Kram and Carlos denied any involvement, arguing that Kram was below fixed surveillance by the Italian police as quickly as he entered Italy and due to this fact couldn’t have carried out the assault undetected.

Nonetheless, the query stays: Had been the Palestinians actually accountable, in a single type or one other, for the terrorist assault in Bologna? As time goes by and an increasing number of archives declassify their paperwork and make them accessible for researchers, we might be able to get nearer to the reality. Within the meantime, nevertheless, as historians, we will attempt to kind delusion from actuality by contextualizing the occasions and critically inspecting the arguments introduced. This strategy reveals that the Palestinian idea isn’t as minimize and dried as Priore and others declare.

We don’t at the moment have any proof that the PFLP and its primary leaders, Habash and Bassam Abu Sharif, or another Palestinian group truly demanded the discharge of Saleh. Moreover, bombings weren’t usually the primary weapon of selection for Palestinian terrorists, who most popular kidnappings and taking hostages on the time. As well as, the Palestinians normally claimed duty for terrorist assaults they dedicated. Even Carlos, who labored for the PFLP till 1975, normally claimed duty for his actions.

Furthermore, neither the Palestinians nor the Italian authorities would have gained something from a stand-off brought on by the arrest of 1 particular person and the confiscation of weapons. Given the vulnerability of the Italian financial system and its dependence on Arab oil, Rome continued to barter with moderately than confront the PLO. In June 1980, for instance, the European Council below Italian management issued a press release in favor of the PLO. As well as, in 1980, the varied factions inside the PLO — together with Habash’s PFLP — supported Yasser Arafat’s extra cautious and diplomatic strategy towards the European international locations.

Why would the PFLP, whose management had been weakened when Habash suffered a stroke in 1980, undergo all this hassle when there was actually nothing to realize? Solely when Arafat’s management function was challenged in 1982 did Palestinian assaults in Europe resume, with the Achille Lauro affair of 1985 serving as a main instance.

Going again to Francesco Cossiga’s testimony, plainly he used the 2008 interview primarily to current himself in a good mild for the newspaper’s Israeli readership by rejecting any involvement within the pact between Rome and the PLO. He claimed that the key service didn’t inform him any particulars in regards to the settlement between Rome and the Palestinians, which, contemplating his positions on the highest stage of presidency, is hardly convincing. As well as, by blaming overseas terrorists for the deadliest assault in Italy’s historical past, he averted taking duty for neglecting and underestimating homegrown terrorism.

Furthermore, we should always not overlook the tensions between the management of what was previously generally known as the Christian Democratic Celebration and the Italian judiciary. Cossiga’s interview exhibits his mistrust towards the judiciary and might need additionally been an try and undermine their authority, by implying that they had been unable to seek out and prosecute the actual perpetrators of the assault regardless of all these years which have handed since.

A Acquainted Sample: Proper-Wing Terrorism

Contemplating these factors, it appears unlikely that the Bologna assault was an act of retaliation in opposition to Italy orchestrated by the PFLP. The extent of Gaddafi’s involvement may inform a unique story, however solely additional investigation and declassification of paperwork will make clear that case. Because it stands, all of the concrete proof and indications we do have level to Italy’s excessive radical proper.

The Bologna assault mirrored how right-wing terrorists have beforehand operated in Italy, significantly throughout the technique of stress interval between 1969 and 1974. Although skeptics could declare that the assault was designed to imitate the ways of the acute radical proper and thus shift blame, it was not simply the assault itself — the indiscriminate bombing with out anybody claiming duty — but additionally the goal that reminded many contemporaries of the chaos right-wing terrorists inflicted on Italy a decade earlier: putting bombs in or near trains within the summertime, thus inflicting most civilian casualties.

On August 4, 1974, for example, right-wing terrorists of the group Black Order carried out an assault on the Italicus specific, killing 12 folks and injuring 48. The Italian singer and songwriter Claudio Lolli commemorated the assault in his well-known music “Agosto”— August — which skilled a revival after the Bologna assault.

One necessary side of the technique of stress, nevertheless, was lacking in 1980, thus implying that it was not only a copycat assault. In distinction to the early 1970s, the makes an attempt in charge the Italian left for the assault had been marginal and had not been picked up by Italy’s main newspapers. It exhibits that the perpetrators had been in a position to adapt to a brand new socio-political state of affairs. Blaming the Italian left, which had established itself as an integral a part of the Italian political panorama in 1980, for the Bologna assault would have been a misplaced trigger.

That doesn’t imply, nevertheless, that the right-wing terrorists didn’t try and affect Italian politics. Bombings, bloodshed and chaos on the streets normally favor conservative teams who declare to be the protectors of legislation and order. Why right-wing terrorists thought 1980 could be yr to launch one other marketing campaign to push Italy additional to the appropriate can solely be absolutely understood after we contextualize Bologna inside Italian and European historical past of the time.

Given the rising tensions between the West and the Jap Bloc since 1979, anti-communism grew to become a robust recruitment device for the unconventional proper in Europe and once more provided a chance to type alliances with the conservative milieu, together with components of the state secret providers. Thus, it comes as no shock that all over the place in Europe, excessive components of the unconventional proper began a brand new marketing campaign of terror to affect the politics of their respective international locations and push them additional to the appropriate. The marketing campaign began in February 1980 and lasted, with pauses, at the very least till 1984-85, when the regime in Moscow started to noticeably decline.

France and Spain skilled a sequence of right-wing assaults, and after Bologna, a bomb exploded on the Oktoberfest in Munich on September 26, 1980, killing 13 folks. Given the latter’s proximity to the Bologna assault, rumors shortly circulated that some type of connection will need to have existed between the Italian terrorists and the German perpetrator, Gundolf Köhler. In 2014, the German federal prosecutor basic determined to reopen the case attributable to inconsistencies and omissions within the unique investigations. Till July 2020, when the case was closed once more, over 300,000 pages of proof had been examined and over 1,000 witnesses interviewed. In the long run, nevertheless, the prosecutor couldn’t discover further co-conspirators or backers as doable proof was carelessly — some would argue intentionally — destroyed early on.

He did, nevertheless, set up that Köhler certainly dedicated a right-wing terrorist assault to form West Germany’s politics and was greater than only a disgruntled youth. Köhler wished to affect the political panorama in his nation in favor of conservative change — in spite of everything, parliamentary elections in West Germany occurred solely a few days after the bombing, and Franz-Josef Strauß, the candidate of the conservative CDU, was recognized for his anti-communist stance.

Fluid Politics

In Italy, the political state of affairs in 1980 was additionally fluid, regardless that no basic election was on the horizon. Francesco Cossiga shaped a fragile coalition authorities in April 1980 between his Christian Democratic Celebration, the Republican Celebration and the Socialist Celebration below Bettino Craxi. Within the regional election in June 1980, the Christian Democrats gained new seats, and right-wing terrorists might need thought that by destabilizing public order this development could possibly be pushed even additional, possibly leading to an finish to the Socialist’s authorities involvement.

Additionally, the town of Bologna as a goal might be taken as a transparent signal that it was the acute radical-right milieu that sought to learn from public turmoil: Bologna was a, if not the image in Italy for a profitable, leftist native authorities: Since 1970, Renato Zangheri, a member of the communist occasion, has served because the mayor of the town.

Final however not least, we also needs to contemplate the Italian excessive right-wing terrorist scene on the time. Inside rivalry between completely different factions inside a terrorist milieu is usually an necessary issue to elucidate a strategy of radicalization. Whereas the technique of stress of the early 1970s was dominated by a type of reactionary right-wing terrorism, the second half of the last decade noticed the emergence of a heterogenous right-wing “armed spontaneity” that confirmed similarities to the American thought of leaderless resistance of the 1970s and 1980s.

In the course of the second half of the 1970s, former heroes of the technique of stress like Stefano Delle Chiaie had been sidelined. When the safety equipment was in a position to arrest exponents of the armed spontaneity faction, and when the Chilly Conflict tensions as soon as once more elevated, the previous guard of Italian right-wing terrorism might need seen a chance to regain management over the nation’s radical-right extremist milieu.

One final query stays, nevertheless: Why do the arrested right-wing terrorists deny all the costs? Ought to we consider them? Even supposing almost everybody who was accused of getting dedicated the terrorist bombing in Bologna has denied their involvement, the right-wing terrorists have one other motif: Spreading terror and worry is a core side of each terrorist group. So, once they deny their involvement within the assault, which remained shrouded in thriller for many years, they enhance a way of unease, worry and terror — a sense that one thing related can occur wherever and at any time as a result of the true puppet masters are nonetheless on the market, giving even those that have been accused of or arrested for against the law the chance to advance the group’s agenda.

On this 40th anniversary of the Bologna assault, the residents of Bologna will observe a minute of silence as they’ve executed yearly since 1980, commemorating the 85 victims whose names are enshrined on a plaque with the title “Victims of Fascist Terrorism.” Like every year earlier than, the anniversary will likely be accompanied by newspaper articles and commentaries, persevering with the controversial debates surrounding the assault. These discussions, nevertheless, mustn’t distract from the truth that at the moment the judicial and the historic proof level solely to at least one group of perpetrators: right-wing terrorists.

Nevertheless, so long as theories and rumors flow into and paperwork stay labeled, the victims and their households nonetheless await closure. Even when the terrorists might need not succeeded of their final aim, the worry and terror they unleashed on August 2, 1980, nonetheless haunts Italy’s public reminiscence — and Bologna’s primary station, with its stricken clock — to at the present time.

*[The Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right is a partner institution of]

The views expressed on this article are the creator’s personal and don’t essentially replicate’s editorial coverage.