Italians blame shadowy powers for bringing terror to Florence: Politicians, Mafia, Masons, secret services? Patricia Clough in Rome on who benefits from the bombing

AS detectives work feverishly to trace the authors of the Florence bomb outrage, Italians are certain of one thing: someone wants to stop their political and moral revolution. But who and why?

The three young men seen by witnesses near the spot before and immediately after the blast, and whose identikits have been circulated, may well have placed the bomb. But no one imagines they are the brains who coldly aimed to destroy one of the world's greatest art centres, the Uffizi gallery, with its irreplaceable masterpieces; who were prepared to massacre any number of people for their own ends; and who early on Thursday, succeeded in killing Angela and Fabrizio Nencioni, their eight-year old daughter Nadia and their nine-month old baby Caterina, as well as a neighbour of the family.

Explosives experts have identified traces of substances known as pentrite and t4, which they say are components of Semtex, the concentrated Czechoslovak-made explosive preferred by terrorists. The same mixture, they say, was used in other Italian massacres, including the assassination of the anti-Mafia magistrate, Giovanni Falcone, his wife and bodyguards, and in the bomb on the Naples- Milan express in December 1984 that killed 15 people and injured more than 200. These attacks are believed to have been the work of the Mafia, aided, if not manipulated, by sinister, hidden forces in what Italians call 'the State'.

But even without this clue, Italians would still be coming to the same conclusions. For decades, shadowy powers have massacred ordinary people up and down the country. The culprits have never been brought to justice. Investigations have been foiled, derailed and insabbiato - quietly buried - by other shadowy powers determined to prevent the truth being known.

So they are left with only one possible trail: their Latin saying, cui prodest? (whose interests are served?). And the conclusions are: old-guard politicians, the Mafia, Masonic conspirators and the secret services; although different people suspect some of these more strongly than others. Most believe that a combination of all four is behind the terror, for these are the people who have most to lose from the astonishing changes that are sweeping Italy.

The corrupt political class, which had been propped up by the Cold War, has virtually collapsed, and magistrates and police are now free to investigate the terrible deeds that went unpunished under its rule. There are politicians, the thinking goes, who are terrified of trial and punishment, not just for corruption but in some cases for possible involvement in murders, bomb massacres and complicity with the Mafia. Cosa Nostra is deeply alarmed at its bosses and their henchmen being arrested, its supergrasses protected by the government while they 'sing' dangerously, and its worldwide, multi-billion pound drug and arms-running empire threatened as never before.

Then there are crooked Masons, members of illicit lodges believed to have brought together Mafiosi, politicians, businessmen and key members of the police and secret services. Attempts by magistrates to investigate these cases are still being obstructed by the authorities. The notorious P2 lodge, headed by its sinister grandmaster, Licio Gelli, but suspected also of being manipulated by politicians, comprised a network of key people in public life, including the press, which aimed eventually to take power. It has supposedly been smashed, but may be living on in some form.

The secret services have long been suspected of being involved in terrorist-style attacks, and were disgraced some years ago when a former chief was alleged to have plotted a coup. Claims that they have been cleaned up are weakened by the fact that a leading official in the SISME, the civilian security service, is in jail accused of protecting and collaborating with Salvatore Riina, allegedly the Mafia's boss of bosses, and other Mafia figures. The Venetian magistrate Felice Casson, who has investigated some of these crimes, says the secret services are not in themselves corrupt. They just carry out orders. But a police union, which also might be expected to know a thing or two, has demanded that the secret services be dissolved.

These suspicions are far from new. Since the late 1960s, bombs in public places massacred scores of people and injured hundreds. Until the fall of communism, a single strategy could be discerned: to spread terror and a sense of insecurity, thus strengthening the conservative 'law and order' mood in the country. Behind this, it is assumed, were elements of 'the State': politicians, perhaps, and members of the secret services, possibly helped by right-wing extremists.

Then came the Red Brigade: terrorists motivated by a genuine, if twisted and fanatical, left-wing ideology. But disturbing indications have emerged recently that they may, wittingly or unwittingly, have been manipulated by 'the State', especially in the kidnapping and murder of the former prime minister, Aldo Moro. One of the cleverest and most powerful Christian Democrat leaders, he had been working to bring the Communists, suitably domesticated, into the democratic fold and ultimately into government.

Finally communism fell and the East-West stand-off ended, but still there was no peace. A year ago bombs killed Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, the two magistrates who knew most about the Mafia and posed the single greatest threat to it. But soon investigating magistrates began to suspect that it had been aided by people in 'the State', who alone would have known about their movements. Someone, the reasoning goes, could have been afraid that they would also find out who gave the Mafia its political protection.

Two weeks ago, there was a somewhat different bomb. The television personality Maurizio Costanzo, who has broadcast powerful anti-Mafia programmes, narrowly escaped a car-bomb attack in Rome. It looked - or perhaps was intended to look - as if the Mafia was out to get an enemy. Now the Uffizi bomb is clearly designed to generate maximum shock, abroad as well as at home.

It comes at a sensitive time. The old system is ending, though some politicians may still control their power networks. The new has not yet emerged. The transitional government, committed to reforms, is composed mainly of technicians and depends largely on opposition abstentions.

But if the brains behind the Uffizi bomb intended to terrify the country into stopping the changes, they have failed. The reaction, in vast demonstrations, in the press and in public life is clear: the bomb is one more reason why the old system must go.

'People aren't scared,' said the proprietor of a restaurant just across the river Arno from the scene of the bomb. 'We Italians are a pretty stable lot really. It is 'they' who are frightened because they are finished. These bombs are just the colpo di coda.' That means something like the thrashing of a dying monster.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Broker

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Vehicle Broker is req...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service / Data Capture / Telesales

£12000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Front Of House Team Member

£16500 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific