Italian Red Brigades members accused of plotting attack on Berlusconi home

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The Independent Online

Police claimed to have averted a major terrorist incident after the arrest of 15 men and women in northern Italy, who they said were members of the Red Brigades.

None of those arrested - all aged between their twenties and forties - replied to questions yesterday. The alleged leader of the plot, Alfredo Davanzo, 50, who was jailed for 10 years in the 1980s for Red Brigades actions, declared himself a political prisoner - standard Brigades procedure.

Police said the group was in the advanced stage of planning attacks on a variety of targets: the home of Silvio Berlusconi, the office of his television company Mediaset and of Sky Italia, the office of a maverick right-wing daily paper, Libero, closely linked to the secret services, and the head office of ENI, Italy's main producer and distributor of petrol.

Also targeted, police said, was Pietro Ichino, professor of labour law at a university in Milan. He has been accused by the ultra-leftists of helping the government liberalise employment laws, making it simpler to sack employees and to hire other workers on a more casual basis. Professor Ichino is the latest in a long line of experts in the field to be targeted. In an article in Corriere della Sera yesterday, he named seven predecessors in the same line of work who had been killed or gravely wounded by terrorists. The most recent was Marco Biagi, a government labour law adviser murdered in 2002.

Police claimed the new Red Brigades cell was uncovered by chance after a woman in Milan reported a bicycle in her cellar equipped with a hidden microcamera and miniature radio transmitter. Long and patient bugging work led officers to addresses in Milan, Turin and Padua, where the arrests were made on Monday.

Police said they had filmed military exercises conducted by the terroristsat night in which they trained with an Uzi and a Kalashnikov rifle in the Veneto countryside, then returned the next day to collect the spent rounds. But despite the ambitious targets which police claimed the terrorists had aimed to strike, there have been no reports of any arms or explosives seized during the raids.

Giuliano Amato, the Interior Minister, said: "Probably this time we succeeded in averting a Red Brigades attack." He called the arrests "an important success" but warned: "Today's action testifies to the presence in our country of a Red Brigades infection that has not yet been removed. We know that this one we have defeated will not be the last."

He described the suspected cell as "an organised structure of great danger, but our men succeeded in intervening before it could cause serious damage".

The arrests led to widespread cynicism among opponents of globalisation and Italy's alliance with the United States. On Saturday a demonstration is scheduled in Vicenza, where the Italian government has given the go-ahead - to the dismay of left wingers - for a US military base on the outskirts of the city to be doubled in size.

Radio Sherwood, a Padua-based radio station run by the anti-global movement, commented: "These arrests criminalise the whole movement which on Saturday will march to protest the redoubling in size of the base."

Who were the Red Brigades?

The Red Brigades (BR) are a radical left-wing militant group that, at their zenith during the 1970s and 80s, terrorised Italy with a series of brutal kidnappings and murders.

Formed in early 1970 by a number of radical left-wing students determined to overthrow the Italian state, the Brigades began their political careers kidnapping industrialists and attacking Italian fascist groups.

The original founders were arrested in 1974, and in response the second generation of leaders stepped up their attacks, kidnapping and murdering the Italian Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro.

The crackdown that followed Moro's killing saw the majority of the Brigades' leaders jailed although attacks continued throughout the 1980s. There was further violence in 1999 and 2002 when two government advisers were killed.

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