Italian police have busted a group of far-right aspiring terrorists who were planning attacks — some over the holidays — on politicians, police, magistrates, and migrants.
Fourteen people were arrested and 48 more placed under investigation across the country in connection with the plot — all members of a neo-fascist movement that called itself "the New Order Vanguard." This group is modeled on the far-right New Order movement, which was behind widespread political violence in Italy for decades, especially in the 1970s, and inspired a series of radical followers.
Members of the New Order Vanguard were charged with attempted terrorism, attempted subversion of democracy, and instigating racial violence — much of which they did over Facebook.
The crackdown on the new group — headed by 48-year-old Stefano Manni, a former cop with a long history of disseminating racist propaganda — came after 18 months of investigation by police, dubbed "Operation Black Eagle," which included wiretaps and undercover cops infiltrating the movement.
Police moved in after the group began stockpiling arms — some dug up after they had been hidden following World War II — Mario Parente, an Italian general heading an anti-terrorism group, said on Monday after the first round of arrests.
"We believe we have intervened before the organization could put its plans into action," added Fausto Cardella, the prosecutor in the case. "The plans were in place and we couldn't run the risk of only discovering afterwards how concrete they were."
'To move people, talk is not enough. We need bombs.'
The group was working on a double strategy, prosecutors said. On the one hand, it was planning violent actions, "to destabilize public order and the tranquility of the state," and on the other, "to infiltrate the system of power through popular elections and the establishment of a new political party."
The plans for violent actions included attacking Rome's subway system, as well as politicians moving without bodyguards, police stations and courts, and Equitalia — Italy's state-owned tax collection agency. They had also planned to assassinate a former member of the group for his suspected collaboration with law enforcement.
The group's leader also called for attacks on a number of politicians, including Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. "This is a historically perfect moment to burn Napolitano and his security detail," Manni allegedly wrote in a Facebook post. "This is where Italy's liberation will start."
Another proposed target was Cécile Kyenge, Italy's first black cabinet minister.
Intercepted communication between members of the group included calls in which they discussed details such as the kind of backpack to use for an attack on the subway, as well as plans to run large, coordinated attacks, as "just a couple bombs at Equitalia would not even be commented on by the media," one of the wiretapped neo-fascists said.
Over the last several months, tensions have been running high in Italy and anti-immigrant sentiment has grown deeper, as the country's already severe unemployment figures have sunk to record lows.
In one intercepted phone call, the group's leader is heard talking to a woman in charge of the recruitment of new members about how to best exploit people's fears and exasperation about immigrants. In the call, Manni blames the government's incentives to migrants for "threatening public security."
"Because people soon will really begin to arm themselves and react for nothing," he said. "We'll get to the point when you'll see a Congolese man and kill him without him having even done anything."
"To move people, talk is not enough," a female member of the group is heard saying in a call. "We need bombs."
Italy has a long history of politically motivated bombings and assassinations, particularly through the 1980s — a history to which members of the New Order Vanguard refer nostalgically.
In one of the intercepted calls, a member of the group mentions the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, in which 85 people were killed, as "a work of art."
But the same person calls for more targeted attacks, on institutional buildings, to be carried out simultaneously. "One morning, at 8.20am, 500 people at the same time hit 500 buttons," he says in a call to another member of the group. "The only way is to truly destabilize the situation hitting specific targets, not just stations."
Follow Alice Speri on Twitter: @alicesperi