Police link Rome and Florence blasts: Investigators believe same Mafia group responsible for deaths and damage

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The Independent Online
FLORENCE (Reuter, AFP) - Investigators suspect the car bomb which severely damaged Florence's Uffizi gallery and the Georgofili academy last week was planted by the same hit squad responsible for a blast in Rome two weeks ago, Italian television reported yesterday.

The Interior Minister, Nicola Mancino, has said he believes the Mafia carried out both blasts in order to distract investigators and force police to ease up on crackdowns.

The type of explosive used in the Florence blast, which killed five people including a seven- week-old girl, was probably the same Semtex derivative as that used in a car bomb which damaged a Rome neighbourhood on 14 May and injured more than 20 people, investigators said. The team investigating the Florence bomb said last week there were similarities between two of the police composite sketches of people seen in both Florence and Rome before the blasts.

Security forces stepped up vigilance across the country amid a spate of bomb hoaxes nationwide. The bomb claims, coming as Italy went on extended holiday for the pentecostal weekend, included one by the right-wing Armed Phalanx group that there was a bomb at Bologna train station where 85 were killed in Italy's worst terrorist blast in 1980. Armed Phalanx has claimed responsibility for the Florence and Rome bombs.

Work to restore the Uffizi moved ahead yesterday. 'We have people working day and night so the labourers can begin the major work tomorrow,' the museum's director Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani said. She hoped the museum could partially reopen after the restoration of the main exit via the Buontalenti stairway.

The rage and frustration which gripped Florentines have been transformed into a determination to heal the city's wounds quickly. 'I am here to prove that I am not afraid of anything,' said Rosy Moroccolo. 'This is the least I can do for the city, to prove that no one can intimidate a Florentine.'

Ms Moroccolo is one of more than 300 volunteers who have offered to sift through the rubble of the badly damaged Accademia dei Georgofili, one of the world's largest collections of books and documents on agriculture dating from the 17th century. The academy, in a building behind the west wing of the Uffizi, took the brunt of the blast. It also housed paintings by lesser artists. Last night, rescue workers said they had recovered the academy's archives intact.

Museums here boasted almost double the usual number of visitors yesterday. The influx of visitors could be explained in terms of 'solidarity, curiosity', said Florence art treasures director Antonio Paolucci, and by the fact that the closure of the Uffizi diverted tourists to the Academy, the Medici Chapels, the Bargello and the Pitti Palace. Tourist organisations had feared a drop in the number of tourists after the blast.