DURING THE Festival of Liberation of 25 April 1969, there was an explosion on the FIAT stand at the Fiera campionaria in Milan. It was nearly 7.00 pm and 20 people were injured, though none of them seriously. Shortly before 9.00 pm. a further explosion occurred in the Central Station at the bureau de change of the Banca Nazionale delle Communicazioni — again, fortunately, with few people injured. No lives were lost, but that was only by luck. Both bombs had been activated by a timing device.
Figures released the Interior Ministry stated that these terrorist attacks had been preceded by 32 other attacks. By the end of the year the number of explosions and arson attacks stood at 53. But other sources counted as many as 140. Why the disparity? Because only those attacks for which someone had been denounced or arrested made it into the ministry’s figures. Attacks by persons unknown were not included in the official statistics.
In the case of the 25 April bomb attacks (with their echoes of the partisan war and ‘leftwing’ targeting of those standard-bearers of Italian capitalism, FIAT, and Italian financial institutions), there was a trio on the job that was to become famous by the end of the year — Inspector Luigi Calabresi, his superior Antonino Allegra and Judge Antonio Amati.
All three took off on the anarchist trail. They rounded up fifteen anarchists, of whom they detained four — Paolo Braschi, Paolo Faccioli, Giovanni Corradini and his wife Eliane Vincileone.
Whereas the first two were very young and virtually unknown in leftwing circles in Milan, Corradini and Vincileone enjoyed a certain renown. He was an architect and both had a wide circle of acquaintances. They were good friends, indeed, of the publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli and his fourth wife Sibilla Melega. This led to Corradini and Vincileone being depicted as the organisational brains — the masterminds — behind the attacks.
Corradini was regarded by the Special Branch as an anarchist theorist because, in 1963, he had been in charge of running the monthly Materialismo e libertà, a paper deemed to have broken new ground in anarchist circles, but one that had been short-lived, running to only three issues.
In addition to this foursome there was also Angelo Piero Della Savia, who was extradited from Switzerland, and Tito Pulsinelli who was picked up in Riccione on 22 August. Pulsinelli was arrested with Enrico Rovelli who was, however, soon released. He dropped out of the investigation and joined the ranks of Inspector Calabresi’s informants. His role was finally exposed during the inquiries into the attack carried out outside police headquarters in Milan by Gianfranco Bertoli, an individualist anarchist, on 17 March 1970. Rovelli turned up a year later, still at large on the streets of Milan, as the organiser of big rock concerts and manager of the celebrated Rolling Stones Club on the Corso XXII Marzo.
The anarchists were charged with both 25 April bomb attacks (conveniently, this occurred three days after the parliament was due to debate draft legislation on disarming the police and which, in view of the climate at the time, was set aside) and of another 18 lesser offences. The anarchists allegedly confessed to a number of the latter offences, but consistently rejected the charges relating to the 25 April bombings. When it came to court, they retracted their ‘admissions’, stating these had been extorted by Inspector Calabresi.
Corradini and Vincileone were freed from prison on 7 December 1969 due to lack of evidence and their alibi having been confirmed by Feltrinelli and Melega, (although the latter were indicted for perjury, a charge that was to collapse when it eventually came to court).
The trial opened on 22 April 1971, nearly two years after the initial arrests. The accused were cleared of the Fiera campionaria and Central Station attacks on 28 May, after 36 sittings, but were convicted of six of the minor attacks. The sentences handed down were: Della Savia — eight years: Braschi — six years and ten months: Faccioli — three years and six months. The Court of Appeal later reduced these sentences in April 1976. Pulsinelli was cleared of all charges.
The trial ended with a substantial repudiation of the inquiries made by Inspector Calabresi and of Judge Amati’s examination. The charges brought against the anarchists relied mainly upon two witnesses, that of Rosemma Zublena and another whose name was to crop up again — ballistics expert Teonesto Cerri.
Zublena, Braschi’s former lover was twenty years or older than him and proved totally unreliable under cross-examination. She accused the young anarchists of the bombings, claiming that Braschi and the others had told her about their activities. Cornered by the defence lawyers, who exposed the contradictions in her evidence she tried, unsuccessfully, to claim Giuseppe Pinelli as the source of her information. Finally, after more pressure, she came out with the statement that said it all: ‘I have merely repeated what Calabresi knew.’
Even the prosecution counsel, Antonio Scopelliti, in his final summing up told the court to ignore her evidence: ‘The court should pay no heed to this witness who has stained a number of the pages of this indictment with her gross and cumbersome presence […] The role of witness is not suited to Zublena and the trial records have plainly exposed her weakness as a witness.”
Cerri, by contrast, stuck to his accusations by alleging theft of explosives from a quarry in Grone — a theft that had never been reported and which those in charge at the quarry denied had ever taken place. Yet, flying in the face of all reason, the jury confirmed the theft from the quarry. Why? — to justify the sentence handed down for the six minor offences and, incidentally, to show that Valpreda could have had explosives in his possession.
Even more seriously, however, the court chairman, Paolo Curatolo, ignored a document published at the beginning of December 1969 in The Observer and The Guardian newspapers in Britain. International experts had pronounced the document reliable. This was a secret memorandum addressed to the Greek Foreign Affairs minister in which premier Giorgios Papadopoulos was briefed on the results of a provocative campaign mounted in Italy by the Greek government over some time — with the connivance of fascist groups and “some representatives from the army and the carabinieri.” The report speculated about the chances of a rightwing coup d’état through an escalation by action groups that had been in operation for some time past.
The 3-page dossier assessed the activities of Luigi Turchi, a Movimento Sociale Italiana (MSI) [principal fascist party] deputy and by an unidentified Mr P. It read: “Only on 25 April was it possible to mount the actions scheduled for earlier. The alteration to our plans was forced upon us by the fact that it was hard to gain access to the FIAT pavilion. Both actions have had a considerable impact.” The other action had been the Central Station explosion.
But then another even more sensational development occurred. On 13 April 1971 — a few days prior to the opening of the proceedings in Milan — Giancarlo Stiz, the examining magistrate in Treviso, issued warrants for the arrest of Giovanni Ventura, a 27 year old publisher and bookseller from Castelfranco Veneto, Franco Freda, a 35 year old prosecution counsel from Padua and Aldo Trinco, a 28 year old student.
Judge Stiz accused them of conspiracy to subvert and ‘procurement of war materials’ but also — above all— of planning bomb attacks in Turin in April 1969 and on the state railways in August 1969. Freda and Ventura would later be sentenced to 15 years in 1987 for these outrages and for the 25 April 1969 bombings in Milan.
However, there was one worrying detail with regard to this matter. Gianni Casalini of the Padua Nazi group (and an SID informant code-name Turco) had told the secret services he had driven to Milan with an Ivano Toliolo, a confidant of Freda’s, who had brought with him a bag containing explosives. But Gianadelio Maletti, director of the SID’s D division (counter-intelligence), decided to bury this information.
What happened in August 1969?
Ten trains travelling between Northern and Central-Southern Italy were targeted by eight bombs, which exploded between one o’clock and three o’clock on 9 August — another two failed to explode. Twelve people, passengers and railway employees, were injured. The cost-benefit outcome for the perpetrators was certainly not favourable. A lot of logistical effort had been deployed (the bomb on the Pescara-Rome train had needed the direct involvement of Freda and Ivan Biondo, also from the Nazi group in Padua) even though the desired effect was not produced. A climate of alarm was created, but no life had been lost.
Investigators Allegra and Calabresi again headed down the anarchist trail. Allegra, the head of the Milan Special Branch, put this allegation to Giuseppe Pinelli who laughed in his face. On that occasion, too, August 1969, the press ran with the police misinformation. On 13 August La Stampa carried a piece by-lined g.m. entitled ‘Anarchists have gone to ground to escape questioning’.
‘In the wake of the train bombings ‘ wrote the Turin daily’s correspondent, ‘the Milanese anarchists dropped out of circulation. Partly to go on holidays, partly to avoid police questioning, they have sought a change of air. Some were rounded up last April on charges relating to a flurry of attacks, of which the one at the Fair in Milan was one. Notwithstanding the evidence gathered by the police, those arrested still denied all the charges: perhaps the courts will establish the truth. The Milan anarchists have ‘gone to ground’ and the premises of La Comune at 39 Via Lanzone and of the Ponte della Ghisolfa group have been closed. After the Fair bombing, it seemed as if the young anarchists’ organisation had been smashed: in reality, their black flag was never taken down: the ranks have been reshuffled in accordance with new criteria to render it more difficult to identify new recruits.’
The article closed with some fantastic allegations: ‘Up until some time ago the anarchists in Milan were few in number, bereft of resources and unorganised. Now someone had taken it into his head to exploit their utopianism. The anarchists have been wooed and funded by the totalitarian right and the leftwing extremists.’
Notwithstanding back up from the press, the police in several cities failed to arrest or charge anyone — but the climate was right for a clampdown on extremists. And so, in Milan, at dawn on 19 August, 150 police and carabinieri forced their way into the former Commercio hotel, now rechristened the Casa dell student e del laboratory. The building, due for demolition, was in the Piazza Fontana, directly opposite the Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura branch.
Squatted after a student meeting on 28 November 1968, the premises had become a regular meeting-place for the far left: the newspapers described it as ‘a headquarters of Maoist and anarchist contestation.’ The police burst in on 58 sleeping people who were rounded up for identification. Three were arrested and released on 22 August. Immediately after the police forced entry, a demolition team went into action and within hours the premises had been reduced to rubble.