Anarchist cell uncovered in hunt for parcel bomber

The Italian authorities believe they have uncovered an anarchist cell after the arrest of a man suspected of sending a parcel bomb comprising shotgun cartridges and fireworks and a threatening letter to Romano Prodi last month.

Luca Farris, 24, appeared before a magistrate in Cagliari, Sardinia, yesterday to decide whether he should be remanded in custody. During the next week Sardinian investigators will meet their counterparts in Bologna, on the mainland, to share what they have gleaned about the "anarchist" attacks.

The authorities assert that Mr Farris and two or three others, including two women, constitute a cell of a group known as ASAI (Anonymous Sardinian Anarchist Insurrectionists), a group that has claimed responsibility for more than 20 incendiary bomb attacks in the past year.

They say they have evidence which indicates that Mr Farris was actively involved in 15 attacks. He was arrested on Monday at his home in the Sardinian town of Assemini which he shares with his parents and a sister. The arresting carabinieri officers told reporters they found equipment to make at least 12 primitive bombs in Mr Farris's bedroom.

The threatening, but harmless, package sent to Mr Prodi on 12 January this year was seen at the time as probably a copycat attack after a series of more efficient and dangerous parcel bombs arrived at the addresses of Mr Prodi, Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, and several other EU targets, including a British MEP in Manchester.

The parcel opened by Mr Prodi on 27 December was the only one to go off, creating black smoke and damaging furniture and carpets, but causing no injuries. All the bombs were postmarked Bologna and at least two of them were signed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Informal Federation of Anarchists. The Bolognese authorities have yet to announce any breakthrough.

Leaks from the Carabinieri in Sardinia this week, where a low-level campaign of violent attacks in support of the island's autonomy has been continuing for years, suggest that Mr Farris and his collaborators were "exuberant" amateurs who got involved in anti-government activity for kicks.

Investigators said they intercepted incriminating text messages, one of which said: "Did you see Ballaro [a popular Italian current affairs television programme]. Last night, they were talking about us and the package we sent to Prodi." Mr Farris was also said to have told friends what he had done.

Carmelino Fenudi, Mr Farris's lawyer, said the prosecutors were discussing charging his client with "association for terrorist purposes and subversion of democratic order" - Italy's terrorist law passed in December 2001 - which carries a penalty of seven to 15 years' imprisonment. "But frankly,they are blowing the thing out of proportion," he said.

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