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Bologna massacre: 38 years on, questions remain over Italy's deadliest postwar terror attack

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Bologna massacre: 38 years on, questions remain over Italy's deadliest postwar terror attack
The scene of the attack. Photo: AFP
11:02 CEST+02:00
On August 2nd, 2018 Italy marks 38 years since one of the deadliest ever attacks to take place in the country, a bombing of a train station in the northern city of Bologna.

A device left inside a suitcase exploded at 10.25am on the first Saturday of August in 1980 in a waiting room at Bologna's train station.

It was a warm summer's weekend, and that waiting room unusual in having air conditioning, so it was full of people sheltering from the heat. Seventy-six died in the attack and a further 200 were wounded, including some whose injuries were so serious that they later died, bringing the total death toll to 85. Most of the train station was destroyed.

The victims were a mix of station staff, local Italians, and tourists including some from abroad. The youngest was a girl, Angela Fresu, aged just three.

The northern university city was unprepared for such a devastating attack, and did not have enough ambulances to transport the wounded, so some were taken to hospital in taxis.


Flowers left next to a damaged train. Photo: AFP

At first, those present thought the blast was an accident; a gas explosion, and it wasn't until later in the morning that police began to investigate it as a deliberate bombing. Around midday, different terrorist groups began making claims of responsibility for the act.

The bombing remains Western Europe's fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy's history. It came as part of the so-called 'Years of Lead' in the 1970s and 1980s, during which the mafia, the ultra-leftwing Red Brigades and neo-fascist groups carried out violent attacks.

It was attributed to the neo-fascist group NAR, and several members were convicted over the attack, but the investigation also uncovered murky links to organized crime groups and even possible ties to the Italian secret service. The trial lasted decades, with appeals, acquittals, and multiple diversions -- a new appeal trial began in 1993, largely due to lobbying from the Association of the Relatives of the Victims.

However, it is likely that some of those involved in planning the attack will never be brought to justice.

Italian president Sergio Mattarella said on Thursday, the 38th anniversary, that Italy needed to shed light on the questions and "shadowy areas" that still remain even today.

A march and concert were held in Bologna, as is the case every year, to remember the lives lost or permanently altered by the massacre, and Mattarella gave specific thanks to the residents of the city who honour the victims' memory. Bologna reacted quickly and defiantly to the bombing, with marches and demonstrations held in its central square over the following days, calling for action from the government and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.

In the city today, efforts are continuing to unearth new leads in the investigation. Just a few weeks before the 2018 anniversary, experts at the university began work on new analysis of the remains of the explosion, in an effort to find more information about the device used.

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