Bologna’s beautiful, medieval arcades empty in high summer heat. On an August Saturday morning one of the few crowded places is the air-conditioned Centrale Station waiting room. The bombers chose well. In the confined space, the suitcase bomb packed with high-quality TNT collapsed the ceiling on everyone inside, destroyed most of the main station building, and wrecked the Ancona to Chiasso express train at platform one. Hundreds lay dead and injured and Italy was shaken to its core. Bologna represents the country’s soul, and Italians were united in their distress.
From the start, official investigations were mired in disinformation. Only with hindsight can partial truth be disentangled from conspiracy theory, and the result is even more fantastic. Long afterwards, Licio Gelli and others were convicted of planting false leads, including a second bomb ‘found’ in Bologna station in 1981, to suggest an international group of terrorists. Then Gelli was found to be leader of Propaganda Due (P2), a secret Masonic lodge whose existence was unknown until late 1981. P2 was nothing less than a right-wing government in waiting, comprised of serving Cabinet ministers, Vatican bankers, Italian secret service commanders, and top movers and shakers.
In 1987, P2 ‘arranged’ for four known neo-nazi terrorists to be convicted of the bombings; but by 1990 declassified documents began to emerge showing that both NATO and the CIA were intimately involved with a ‘parallel’ army, part of NATO’s anti-communist European network. Known in Italy as Gladio (every country uses a local name), it engaged in electoral subversion and terrorist acts. In 2000, another investigation by the Italian Senate into the bombing concluded that the bombers were ‘men inside Italian state institutions and… men linked to the structures of United States intelligence’. In the febrile political atmosphere of the 1970s and 1980s, morality apparently counted for nothing.
When: August 2 1980
Where: Bologna Centrale station, Bologna, Italy
Death toll: Until Madrid, it was Europe’s worst terrorist incident with 85 dead and over 200 injured. Those convicted of the bombings were members of the neo-nazi NAR (Nuclei Armaţi Rivoluzionari). They happily admitted other murders, but not these. Freed in 1990 after the revelations, they were then retried, and sentenced to life in 1995 … and released again after the intervention of the deputy head of one of Italy’s secret services. The Bologna bombing is a terrifying reminder of how ‘things we don’t know we don’t know’ can be deadly.
You should know: The main clock at Bologna station is forever stopped at 10.25, and August 2 has been designated the annual Memorial Day in Italy for all terrorist massacres. The day culminates in a concert in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore.