Aldo Moro Kidnapped by the Italian Red Brigades
March 16, 2010
On March 16, 1978, former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro was
kidnapped by a left-wing extremist group; he was killed 55 days later
when the terrorists' demands were not met. Many in Italy believe that
domestic or international government forces were complicit in the
murder of Moro, who was due to sign a controversial agreement with
the Communist Party on the day of his kidnapping.
Moro Kidnapped Before Compromise
Two-time former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, leader of the Christian
Democratic Party, had negotiated an agreement to form a coalition
government with the Italian Communist Party (PCI). Known as the
Historic Compromise, it alarmed both right wing parties and the
extreme left, including the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist
"The Red Brigades completely opposed this idea, as it interfered with
the declared aim of spearheading an armed Marxist revolution in
Italy, led by a 'revolutionary proletariat,'" explains The Florentine.
On the morning on March 16, as Moro was en route to the House of
Representatives to enact the compromise, a dozen members of Red
Brigades launched an assault on his car. The extremists shot and
killed five of Moro's bodyguards and abducted him, taking him to a safe house.
The Red Brigades demanded the release of 13 leftist prisoners in
exchange for Moro. Throughout his captivity, Moro was allowed to send
letters to political allies and family members, in which he pled with
the Italian government cooperate with the terrorists.
In one letter, Moro writes to Italian Interior Minister Francesco
Cossiga: "Weigh your actions carefully in order to avoid further evil
... In the given circumstances, besides humanitarian reasons, what
becomes apparent is the reason of state. Most of all this reason of
state means that in my present condition I find myself under full and
uncontrolled domination. There is the risk that I will be induced to
talk in a manner that could be dangerous ... May God enlighten you
for the best."
Despite pleas from his friends, family and Pope Paul VI, the Italian
government, which had negotiated with the Red Brigades in previous
situations, refused to negotiate for Moro. On May 9, Moro's body was
found in the trunk of a car, parked symbolically between the
headquarters of the Christian Democrats and the Communist Party.
Conspiracy Theories Surrounding Moro's murder
There are many theories that the Italian government or foreign
governments were involved in the kidnapping of Moro, or that they
were willing to let Moro be killed for their own political gain.
At issue is the Historic Compromise, which never went through due to
the kidnapping. Italy would have become the first post-war Western
European country to include communists to participate in the majority
There were many significant opponents to the compromise: right-wing
and anti-communist politicians, along with some Christian Democrats,
did not want to see the Communists given power. Both the United
States and Soviet Union opposed the compromise, believing that it
would destabilize East-West relations. The U.S. and NATO were
concerned that the deal might threaten NATO's position in Italy.
A 1978 article by journalist Mino Pecorelli, who was murdered the
following year, said that the kidnapping had "the hallmark of a lucid
superpower." Pecorelli suggested that the Gladio, a covert
anti-communist network in NATO, aided the Red Brigades in the kidnapping.
Proponents of this theory point to the near-perfect execution of the
kidnapping as evidence that the kidnappers were aided by elite
forces. In particular, the fact that the kidnappers were able to kill
the five bodyguards without harming Moro suggests that a professional
shooter was involved.
There are also many people who believe that, even if the Red Brigades
carried out the kidnapping without outside help, there were
governmental figures who wanted Moro to be killed and obstructed
efforts to save him.
Italian authorities launched a nationwide manhunt for Moro, but
ignored key leads that would have led them to the kidnappers.
Furthermore, for a country known for being willing to negotiate with
terrorists, it was unusual for the government to adopt a hardline stance.
Steve Pieczenik, a hostage negotiator in the State Department,
claimed in 2008 that Moro was "'sacrificed' for the 'stability' of
Italy." According to his book, "We Killed Aldo Moro," the U.S. and
Italian governments instructed Pieczenik to write and deliver a false
statement attributed to the Red Brigades, announcing Moro's death.
Pieczenik said the statement was presented as a means of
communicating to the Red Brigades that the Italian government already
considered Moro dead, thereby removing the authority they leveraged
through his captivity.
Richard Drake, author of "The Aldo Moro Case," rejects the conspiracy
theories that have emerged surrounding Moro's murder. He argues that
the killing more aptly represents the threats of a country captivated
by Marxist-Leninist ideology: "For all those under the beguiling
spell of the revolutionary mystique, the prescriptions of Marx and
Lenin transformed the most bestial acts of inhumanity into thrilling
deeds on behalf of the proletariat. The Moro kidnapping was just such an act."
Background: The Red Brigades
The Brigate Rosse, known as the Red Brigades, was created in 1970s by
radical Marxist-Leninist students who wished to see the overthrow off
the capitalist system. The most active of Italy's paramilitary groups
during the "Year of Lead," the Red Brigades became famous for the
kidnapping of prominent Italian officials and industrialists.
Following the murder of Moro, the Italian government cracked down on
the Red Brigades and the extreme left. More than 10,000 leftist
leaders were arrested in 1980, while many of the Red Brigades'
leaders "disavowed their political doctrine and turned their comrades
into the police," reports The Florentine.
Due to the crackdown, Red Brigades fissured around the mid-1980s,
splitting off into The New Red Brigades/Communist Combatant Party and
the Union of Combatant Communists. The New Brigades inherited the
militancy of the original Red Brigades. The New Red Brigades claimed
responsibility for the assassinations of labor minister advisor
Massimo D'Antona in 1999, professor Marco Biagi in 2002 and a police
officer in 2003.