Bloody return of Red killers grips Italians

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AFTER THE brutal killing of a senior government adviser in central Rome, Italian politicians, police and the public fear they may be facing a return to a bloody past that they believed had been buried.

Massimo D'Antona, 51, a leading labour relations expert, was shot dead near his home in Rome on Thursday.

"The Red Brigades for the Construction of the Combative Communist Party" claimed responsibility for the murder in a communique sent to a Rome newspaper. The five-pointed star on the red background, the lengthy communique, the bullets and the blood, took Italians back to the "years of lead" when the ultra left-wing Red Brigades guerrillas tried to hold the state to ransom.

From 1976 to 1988 more than 300 people were killed in terrorist violence. The victims were magistrates, managers, policemen and politicians such as the former prime minister Aldo Moro. However, specific references in this week's communique to the Balkans war mean investigators are also exploring a foreign connection in the murder.

Most of the leaders of the Red Brigades are now finishing their jail sentences or are on day-release and seem surprised by the attack.

Adriana Faranda, a founding member of the Brigade, said that "a few `fringe militants' might still be espousing the armed struggle" but added that she thought "all the pain and tragedy that strategy had created would dissuade anyone from pursuing it".

Mr D'Antona was shot a few yards from his home, in what police say was an operation planned in advance and carried out with care and precision. Witnesses say two casually dressed young men wearing vests and baseball caps fled the scene on a scooter.

Investigators are dissecting a 28-page strategic manifesto from the group claiming to be the Red Brigades to determine who exactly is behind the reappearance of a guerrilla group whose last murder was 11 years ago.

The document clearly identifies the "enemies" - the imperialist bourgeoisie, the left, the trade unions, Nato, the European Union and the United States. It also names the Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, the Treasury Minister, Giulano Amato, and Sergio Cofferati, the leader of the country's biggest trade union.

An entire section of the manifesto is dedicated to the Balkans conflict. Nato is accused of favouring the break-up of the Yugoslav Federation and "trying to impose imperialist domination by reducing Serbia to poverty". Some analysts believe the assassination may not be homegrown, pointing out that never in the past 50 years has Italy had such a pivotal role on the world stage.

As host to the Nato bombers it is crucial in the Balkans conflict but the government has also attempted to shift the European axis towards a diplomatic solution. Given that the effects of terrorism would be to concentrate all attention on internal affairs, a Serbian connection cannot be ruled out.

Police are now reinterpreting recent violence including attacks on branches of McDonald's and the American video chain BlockBuster and the burning of US servicemen's cars at the Aviano air base. The killing is also being connected to the hold-up of an armoured truck in Milan during which the robbers fired on the guards and police. The Red Brigades used to hold up banks to raise cash and sow panic.

The communique also explained why Mr D'Antona, a patient mediator with a long career as a labour lawyer, university professor and consultant to government, had been shot. He was a key promoter of recent moves to reform Italy's hamstrung labour laws and one of the leading architects of the Pact for Employment, which seeks to create 100,000 jobs next year by loosening bureaucracy and stimulating part- time employment.

The government approved that pact yesterday, showing it would not be intimidated.