Rome — The killing in Palermo of Santi Mattarella, president of the Sicilian Regional Council, and the Milan shooting deaths of three national police officers, all within an eight-day span of the New Year, has proven once again that Italy remains in the grips of endemic terrorist violence.
Mr. Mattarella was gunned down Jan. 6 in his car as he returned with his family from morning church services. He was the highest-ranking politician to die since Red Brigade terrorists abducted and killed former Christian Democratic Party Premier Aldo Moro in 1978.
Mr. Mattarella's assassination -- which a leftist front-line group claimed credit for -- was particularly significant because of his longtime political rapport with Mr. Moro. Like Mr. Moro, Mr. Mattarella -- also a Christian Democrat -- was a leading exponent of governmental cooperation with the Communist Party.
Such a political union repeatedly has been denounced in documents distributed secretly by both the ultra-leftist Red Brigade and Front Line, whose stated aims is the revolutionary destruction of the Italian state.
In Milan, only two days after the Mattarella killing, the Red Brigade ambushed three national police officers in morning fog and snow, riddling their squad car with at least 30 Browning submachine-gun bullets.
Since Mr. Moro's abduction on March 16, 1978, 29 police officers have died by terrorist bullets. There is increasing desperation among police officers who feel themselves to be sitting in the terrorists bull's-eye.
Several anti-terrorist officers openly admit they want the power to strike first. "In the days when Sicily was controlled by bandits and the police knew they were hiding out in a cave, they threw hand grenades first and asked questions later. Is that what we are going to be reduced to?" asked one, only half rhetorically.
But Premier Francisco Cossiga did not give a full answer. "It is our duty to find some way to control the situation," he responded.Yet his words, repeated after almost every terrorist episode, rang hollow Mr. Cossiga suggested "an alliaance" between terrorism and the Mafia, but declined to go further. "We are fighting a protracted war," he said.
Although nationwide anti-terrorist raids have netted more than 200 suspects since the Moro affair, the arrest rate has not cut down on the number of random attacks, nor limited the availability of weapons.
The problem, according to highly placed officials, is the degree to which terrorist propaganda has attracted the country's restless factory workers and its disenchanted youth, many of them either unemployed or unable to advance in a deeply rooted system of patronage and favoritism.