Red Brigades killers given life in jail for murder of reformer

Five members of a tiny Italian ultra-left terrorist group have received life sentences in Bologna for the murder of Marco Biagi, an economist who was advising the government on its labour laws.

Roberto Morandi, Nadia Desdemona Lioce, Marco Mezzasalma, Diana Blefari Melazzi and Simone Boccaccini were all given life terms for Professor Biagi's killing despite the prosecution's concession that Boccaccini had played little part in the murder. The prosecutor had asked for a 24-year term for Boccaccini.

The economist was shot dead outside his home on 19 March 2002 by two men on a motorcycle. The sign of the Red Brigades, a five-pointed star inside a circle, was scratched on the wall of his home, and later a member of a group describing itself as Red Brigades - Combatant Communist Party called a local newspaper to claim responsibility. The murder followed the killing, in 1999, of another economist, Massimo D'Antona, who had been a government adviser on on similar issues.

The conviction and sentencing of the two women and three men, was a major achievement for the government in the fight against what it feared could be a return to the vicious far-left terrorism of the 1970s and 1980s. The first break in the affair came in 2003 when Lioce, one of the founders of the group, was arrested in a shoot-out with police on a train. Lioce's companion Mario Galesi, co-founder of the group, died in the exchange of fire, as did a police officer. The couple's mobile phones and palm-top digital diaries led police to other group members.

One member, Cinzia Banelli, already serving time for her involvement in the killing of Professor D'Antona, bore a son in jail and soon afterwards turned state's evidence on other members of the tiny revolutionary group.

She told investigators her activities had led to "four completely useless deaths" - the two economists, the revolutionary and the policeman during the shoot-out.

This week Ms Banelli was given permission to be moved from prison in Pisa to an undisclosed prison where she would be safer from attacks by friends of the five convicted this week.

The Red Brigades group responsible for the killings have been reported to be an offshoot of the Red Brigade, which operated in the 1970s and whose most notorious action was the kidnapping and killing of the Christian Democrat leader and former Italian premier Aldo Moro. But former leaders of the original group have expressed scorn for the rhetoric and actions of the new group.

That the Red Brigades were out of touch with the times was suggested by the fact that, within hours of the killing, Italy's biggest trade unions announced a demonstration to honour Professor Biagi.

Tens of thousands of workers thronged the centre of Bologna, a city with a strong communist tradition, to pay their respects.

State prosecutors were quietly confident this week that they had smashed the Red Brigades for good.

"I'm satisfied because three years of work have yielded a reward," Enrico Di Nicola, the chief prosecutor, said."We have succeeded in having the killers of Marco Biagi condemned. None of them have got through our net."

Lawyers for the five said that they would appeal.

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