Truth, Mystery and Justice in Milan

John Foot describes the background to a trial that threatens to clarify an obscure and ignoble chapter in Italy’s recent past.

On December 12th, 1969, a bomb exploded in a bank in Milan’s city centre. The Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana was packed with clients, sixteen of whom were killed and over eighty injured. The same day, another three bombs blew up in Rome causing a number of injuries; a further device was found in a corridor in Milan’s Banca Commerciale and was destroyed by police. A round-up of left activists began across Italy, with up to 4,000 arrests and interrogations. Giuseppe Pinelli, a little known Milanese anarchist, was called in to the central Milanese police station for questioning by an officer called Luigi Calabresi. The funeral for the victims of the Piazza Fontana massacre was held on December 15th, and Milan’s central streets were packed with over 200,000 people as the city came to a halt. That afternoon, another anarchist, Pietro Valpreda, was arrested inside the Milanese law courts (where he had gone to answer previous charges of ‘offending the Pope’!) and taken to Rome for questioning about the bombs. The Corriere della Sera described him a ‘human beast’. That night, at around midnight, Pinelli ‘fell’ from a fourth floor window of the police station.

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