After weeks of raucous student protests and political uncertainty surrounding embattled Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy is now on edge over a string of terror attacks targeting foreign embassies.
Two small bombs exploded today at the Swiss and Chilean embassies in Rome, injuring two people. The Rome explosions follow the the discovery of a fake bomb Wednesday on Rome's subway. Anonymous callers alerted police today that the presidential palace could also be targeted, but that report turned out to be a false alarm.
So far no group has claimed responsibility for today's attacks. Many experts, however, say the bombings, which come about six weeks after a string of parcel bombs in Greece targeted embassies (including the Swiss Embassy), appear to be the work of Italian anarchists. Likewise, the parcel-bomb attacks in Athens last month were also blamed on anarchist groups.
Italy's Interior Minister Roberto Maroni told the news agencies that the attacks in Rome "bear many similarities with the episodes that took place in November in Greece, which lead us to think the international track is the right one," he said referring to the investigation into today's attacks.
The attacks follow weeks of student protests against the proposed reform of the university system and, more broadly, against the current right-wing government. Earlier this week the students staged huge protests in Rome and in Milan, while last month a group of students stormed Pisa's world famous leaning tower.
Riots erupted in Rome on Dec. 14, minutes after Mr. Berlusconi barely survived a no-confidence motion in parliament. Back then, a group of students tried unsuccessfully to break into the Senate building. Experts say there may be a connection between the recent wave of terrorist attacks and the protests.
“Anarchist groups are probably trying to exploit the climate of social unrest to their agenda," says Giampiero Giacomello, professor of Strategic Studies at the University of Bologna. “There's a lot of tension now in the streets, with the students and the labor unions very much upset at the government, while the ruling coalition is in a relatively weak position."
“What the anarchist groups are now trying to re-create is the old alliance between parts of the student movement that used to exist during the 'Years of Lead,' ” points out Mr. Giacomello. However, he says, it is “quite unlikely” the students will actually answer the call.
One big question, however, is why the Swiss and the Chilean embassies were targets. A anarchist website claimed the choice came as an act of solidarity for the “many comrades held in prison” in those countries.
But Giacomello has another explanation: He says the attack against the Swiss Embassy may be a response to the recent Swiss ban on minarets.
“It seems like a move to show solidarity to the Muslim population, or perhaps to seek an alliance with Muslim extremists," he says. “This would be an unprecedented event in Italy's history."
Italy has a long history of domestic terrorism carried out by fascist, communist, and anarchist groups. It was shocked by a wave of attacks in the 1970s and early 1980s (the so-called 'Years of Lead').
“International terrorism is the last of Italy's concerns. The attacks at the embassies and at the subway show the typical modus operandi of local anarchist groups,” says Giacomello. “If they were the [communist] Red Brigades, by now they would have claimed responsibility, as they love media attention. On the other hand, fascist cells tend to strike with the intent to kill as many people as possible, and this is obviously not the case."