assessments

Italy Addresses Escalating Security Problems

4 MINS READMay 15, 2012 | 12:34 GMT
An Italian police officer outside the Equitalia building in Rome
FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images
Summary

Italian Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri announced May 13 that she intends to use the Italian army to protect two Italian companies that recently came under attack. The first is Equitalia, which handles tax collection for the Italian government and has been attacked approximately a dozen times since December 2011, when a letter bomb injured an employee at the company's Rome office. The second company is Finmeccanica, Italy's second-largest industrial conglomerate. Gunmen shot and injured Roberto Adinolfi, the CEO of Finmeccanica's Ansaldo Nucleare, in Genoa on May 7. An anarchist group claimed responsibility for the Adinolfi attack May 11 in a letter that also referred to the letter bomb at Equitalia.

Cancellieri highlighted another security issue May 14 when she said Italy's high-speed train network, the TAV, is one of the Italian government's largest security concerns. She indicated that the army could be deployed to protect TAV infrastructure as well, including the Turin-Lyon line currently under construction and facing opposition from local groups amid allegations of environmental degradation and financial waste related to the project.

Although there is no explicit link between the Adinolfi attackers and the TAV protesters, Rome is concerned about an overall escalation of violence and anti-government activity in the country. A recent uptick in aggression from Italian anarchists amid the country's financial crisis could draw unemployed and disenfranchised Italians into acts of violence against the state, and the decision to deploy the army indicates that Rome is not ignoring the possibility of more violence.

The anarchist group that claimed the Adinolfi shooting, the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front, is aligned with the Informal Anarchist Federation. The Olga Nucleus threatened eight more attacks in coming weeks, connecting the attacks to the imprisonment of eight anarchists in Greece. The group released another memo May 13 claiming solidarity with jailed Greek anarchist Olga Economidou, who was recently moved to a different prison in Greece and is, according to the anarchists, in solitary confinement.

The Adinolfi attack marked a shift in tactics for Italian anarchists. Previously, anarchist groups in Italy mailed letter bombs to targets or tossed homemade explosive or incendiary devices at their targets. The attacks were aggressive but involved a certain degree of anonymity. The May 7 shooting indicated that members of the Olga Nucleus had prepared to attack Adinolfi. They likely surveilled his home, monitored his morning routines and prepared for a more brazen attack. The attackers shot Adinolfi in the leg — probably intentionally — to show that they were close enough to kill him but did not (Adinolfi was hospitalized after the attack). The Olga Nucleus stated in a leaflet sent to Italian newspaper La Repubblica that its members were learning new approaches and skills, which could explain the change in tactics.

Italy's Volatile Circumstances

The May 7 attack alone is not a significant security problem for Italy, but the threat of more attacks from an evolving anarchist group does pose a risk. Italy is vulnerable to unrest right now. Although its economy is not as bad as Greece's or Spain's, it has a 9.8 percent unemployment rate — its highest since 2000 — with a youth unemployment rate of more than 30 percent. Italy's technocratic government is struggling under the leadership of Mario Monti. A portion of the population likely feels disenfranchised and disenchanted with the Italian government and economy.

The Olga Nucleus is not using the economy as justification for its attacks, but its general anti-government stance is a more dramatic alternative than the political process for those wanting radical change in Italy. Of course, not everyone upset with the government or economy will engage in violence, but a more assertive anarchist movement could provide some disaffected Italians with a more attractive option than waiting for the government to sort out the current economic stagnation.

Rome's Response

The army deployment Cancellieri announced has not been confirmed, and few details about the possible deployment are available. Italy's Committee on Order and Security will meet May 17 to discuss the specifics of any deployment.

There are precedents for military deployments to address criminal issues in Italy. In 2008, the army sent 3,000-4,000 troops (reports vary on the number) to the Naples area after six men were fatally shot in what was thought to be an unusually public and violent organized criminal conflict. In 1992, 7,000 troops were deployed to Sicily to help secure the region after Sicilian organized criminals assassinated two high-profile government prosecutors. (The Carabinieri, Italy's military police force, has been deployed across the country to fight organized crime and provide protection details and could be deployed instead of, or alongside, army troops.)

However, these military deployments were very specific. Assisting police in maintaining order in the region around Naples for a few weeks is more straightforward and contained than protecting hundreds of offices and stores — or, even more vulnerable, hundreds of kilometers of train tracks — across the country. Finmeccanica, Equitalia and the railway are soft targets, harder for security forces to guard and easier for assailants to study and attack.

A large-scale, open-ended military deployment could be just the response the anarchists want. Groups like the Olga Nucleus do not have the resources to fight the Italian state, but if they can provoke state forces into a confrontation, they can undermine the government's image and authority. The militarization of a country is serious, and Rome will certainly try to balance its need to secure its national interests with its need to avoid provoking more of the population into sympathizing with the attackers.

Italy is still far from a significant security crisis. The Olga Nucleus has achieved the high profile it wanted, and this will make it harder for its members to remain undetected. Increased security could make it harder for the anarchists to conduct surveillance and obtain resources, such as explosives, and investigations that put them on the defensive could complicate their efforts to plan and execute new attacks. This will be a crucial testing period for the Olga Nucleus' staying power, and the extent of any army deployment will show just how seriously Rome is taking the anarchist threat.

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