Car bombs kill five in Milan and shake ancient heart of Rome

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The Independent Online
TWO CAR BOMBS shattered the centre of Rome soon after midnight last night, an hour after five people had been killed by a similar bomb in Milan. At least 21 people were wounded in the two attacks.

At 12.05am a massive explosion shook the portico of St John Lateran, the Pope's cathedral as Bishop of Rome, sending a huge column of dense smoke high into the night sky. The explosion made a hole 15 feet (five metres) deep and more than 10 feet wide and opened a great crack in the side wall of the basilica. It also damaged the bishop's palace.

A white Fiat Uno was seen being left in front of the church soon before midnight. Police reckoned that there was more explosive in it than in car bomb which shook Rome in May. Only the wheel hubs of the car remained and its engine was found 80 metres from the site of the blast.

The other explosion in Rome was in front the sixth-century church of San Giorgio in Velabro, in an area rich in ancient monuments near the Forum. Five people were hurt there. Both areas were cordoned off by police who feared further damage from falling masonry. All that was left of the church's famous portico was a single arch and length of stone beam.

Fire engines, police cars and ambulances raced through the streets and smoke was seen and smelt throughout the city centre. The blasts were so powerful they shook windows at least four miles away. Shaken tourists wandered in a daze, mixing with police and Roman onlookers.

In Milan the bomb was placed in front of the Royal Villa in Via Palestro, near Piazza Cavour, and about half a mile from La Scala opera house. It was apparently a double bomb with a booby-trap, which would explain the five deaths.

State television said the victims in Milan included three firemen and a policeman, apparently called to the scene by a telephone warning that a blast would go off. A man sleeping in a nearby park was also killed.

Yesterday's blasts appeared to dwarf the previous two explosions in Italy in the last two months. On 14 May, a car bomb exploded in a fashionable part of Rome, wounding some 30 people. Two weeks later, a car bomb that the government blamed on the Mafia killed five people and wrecked the Uffizi museum in Florence, rekindling fears of collusion between maverick elements in the secret services, the Mafia and members of Italy's outlawed P2 Masonic lodge to destabilise a country in the process of purging itself of corruption.

'There is a design to destabilise (Italy). I am worried about what might happen tomorrow,' said Milan's director of public prosecutions, Francesco Saverio Borrelli yesterday.

'It was a trap. This is an attempt at intimidation,' said Milan's Mayor, Marco Formentini, at the site of the first blast. 'It is vital to save Italian democracy,' he added.

No one has claimed responsibility and no one been arrested for any of this year's blasts. But investigators believe that the first Rome car bomb and that in Florence were planted by the same hit team. The Interior Minister, Nicola Mancino, has said he believes the Mafia carried out both blasts in order to distract investigators. Certainly the choice of Milan for the latest outrage suggests a connection to the corruption investigations which began in Milan and have so far implicated more than 2,500 business and political figures.