Rome police link woman to wave of bombings: Same mix of explosives and same suspect connect series of attacks

ITALIAN police yesterday issued a picture of a young blonde woman they are seeking in connection with the car bomb in Milan which killed five people on Tuesday. They said the woman also fitted the description given by witnesses to the car bombings in May at the Uffizi gallery in Florence and in Rome's fashionable Parioli district.

According to the latest reconstruction of events from evidence given by passers-by, the woman and a male companion parked the Fiat Uno containing the primed bomb. They then approached a traffic policeman, Alessandro Ferrari, to tell him smoke was coming from the engine. He called out the fire service to deal with the problem. Moments later, Ferrari was killed in the blast.

More evidence of links between the latest attacks and those in May has emerged after forensic experts identified the same mix of explosives in all three bombings. However, investigators seem little closer to picking out the group behind the attacks from the myriad of possible culprits. Greatest suspicion has fallen on maverick secret service officers probably in collusion with right-wingers opposed to the political renewal taking place. Mafia involvement, although considered unlikely because of the specific nature and symbolism of the targets, has not been ruled out. Bruno Siclari, the most senior anti-Mafia investigator, visited the site of the Milan bomb and met judges leading the corruption investigations.

The new head of the internal security service (Sisde), Domenico Salazar, yesterday said his priority would be to re-establish confidence in his corps. 'Now more than ever we must respond to the need for reform expressed by the entire population,' he said. A daunting task lies ahead of him: his predecessor, Angelo Finocchiaro, who was forced to resign on Wednesday in the aftermath of the bombings, is already under investigation for misleading an inquiry into murky, not to say illegal, funding arrangements for the Sisde. Yesterday in parliament, MP after MP attacked the intelligence agency's dismal record on preventing terrorism: many accused it of collusion in the very crimes it was supposed to prevent.

The car bombs have brought the whole question of electoral reform and early election to the fore. Late on Wednesday parliament approved by an overwhelming majority draft legislation to swap proportional representation for qualified majority voting. Under the reform, 75 per cent of seats in both upper and lower houses would be allocated on a first-past-the-post basis and 25 per cent would be decided by PR. Many commentators expect elections under the new system this winter. 'We are only one step from the finishing line,' said Leopoldo Elia, the minister responsible for seeing through the reforms.

In Rome, in the streets around San Giorgio in Velabro, the families made homeless when 100kg of explosive wrecked their tenement early on Wednesday were taking a less sanguine view. 'I used to believe in the reforms. I really thought Italy was changing, but look at this,' said Elio Bardelli, who was picking through the debris in his parents' flat, near the church. The family of seven escaped with scratches but their faith in the state was destroyed. 'We are refugees, nothing more nor less. My father taught me to believe in the institutions of the state, but now I'm losing faith. Every time society tries to change, the bombers come out of the woodwork. Elections won't make any difference.'

(Photographs omitted)

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