The Red Brigades' retaliatory murder of the brother of a top-ranking brigade leader- turned-informer has sent waves of shock and outrage throughout Italy. More importantly, it has dealt a serious blow to the antiterrorist campaign the government has been waging successfully over the past year.
By offering to halve the sentences of convicted terrorists, the government has enticed a number of Red Brigades members to turn state's evidence. Most notable has been Patrizio Peci, a leader of the Red Brigades' Turin Column and a member of the elite strategic high command, who issued a sensational 100-page confession in April 1980, two months after his arrest.
Within a few weeks of Mr. Peci's confession, at least seven more top-ranking terrorists, and scores from the lower echelons, had detailed names, addresses, and dates that enabled police to round up more than 400 terrorists.
"The Mafioso-style kidnapping and murder of Peci's brother, Roberto, who has not been linked to the terrorist organization, is widely seen as a warning to deter other terrorists tempted to abandon the armed struggle," said one magistrate nvolved in the government's war on terrorism.
"The warning was this: Not only will you risk your own life, but you will also endanger the lives of your loved ones," the magistrate said.
Roberto Peci's tortured and bullet-riddled body was found in a dump outside Rome. Around his neck the Red Brigades had hung a placard that read, "Death to the traitor."
The government magistrate feels the Red Brigades' intended signal will unfortunately be heeded by terrorists at present awaiting trial. "There have not been that many informers, now I fear those few will become even fewer still, " said the magistrate.
Peci's death has also aroused a public outcry, because it represents the first time the Red Brigades have killed a member of the working class, whom they have sworn to protect.
"The Italians are particularly indignant because Roberto Peci was an electrician, a worker. As long as terrorists are killing the power-holders, they are viewed as executioners and their killings generated a certain amount of indifference," said Franco Ferrarotti, a sociologist.
Prior to this spring, many were sounding the death knell for the Red Brigades , saying the government's campaign had decimated the terrorist organization. But others estimated the effort was only 50 to 60 percent successful.
This spring, the Red Brigades kidnapped four people including Roberto Peci. Ciro Cirillo, a politician from Naples, and Alfa Romeo executive Renzo Sandrucci were released after the Red Brigades' various demands, including a $1.2 million ransom for Mr. Cirillo, were met. Giuseppe Taliercio, a petrochemical executive , was killed four weeks ago when he refused to cooperate with the Brigades.
But the response of Italy's new prime minister, Giovanni Spadolini, was to announce he would redouble the government's efforts to break the terrorist network.
Following Mr. Peci's death, Spadolini noted in an interview that the terrorists were sharpening their focus. "They are now using violence to achieve certain clear objectives. They are less concerned with using violence blindly as a means for a general destabilization of society such as that occured last year in the Bologna train station, where 85 people died," The Times of London reported Mr. Spadolini as saying.
"We are outlining a new strategy by adopting new measures," said Spadolini. He quickly called together a top-level meeting with several of his Cabinet officers to formulate a proposal that would give the courts more leeway to impose even lighter sentences then at present allowed by law. The proposal includes a communist suggestion to make it easier for informers to leave the country under a new identity. One police source was optimistic that this proposal would be enacted by the parliament by September, which would undercut the Brigade s' new momentum.