August 2, 1980: Bombing in central Bologna

At least 75 people were killed and 200 injured when a bomb ripped through Bologna’s central train station in August 1980: there is still disagreement on who was responsible.

No matter who was behind a mass bombing at the central train station in Bologna (Italy) in 1980 it was wrong.

BOLOGNA, ITALY — I own a cottage in Renfrew County, Ontario, a huge administrative district that ranges in the east to the Ottawa River and in the west to the Madawaska Highlands. The terrain is rugged in many places and I cannot imagine how the first ‘settlers’ (there were First Nations peoples here for thousands of years before the Europeans came) managed to eke out a living here. Judging by the size of the boulders behind my country hideaway it must have taken herculean efforts to clear the land.

One of the tools used to open up the land was to push the railway through. In Canada, of course, the railway is legend: we see it as the backbone of the country. Much of what is today this nation was added only thanks to the medium of the ‘iron horse’.

Alas the railway has fallen on hard times of late. As I drive through many towns in Renfrew County I see dozens of former railway stations, some abandoned, some now converted into visitors’ centres or cafes. Towns that were once served by trains are now accessible only by road. In a world under the gun to stop global warming you would think we would want more, not fewer, trains.

In Europe the situation is quite different. Perhaps because of the smaller land size (and generous state subsidies!) rail still reigns supreme. I have used trains in many EU states and found them both efficient and a great way to get to the centres of major cities. As a result, they seem to attract a lot of Europeans as well.

Which makes them a prime terrorist target.

On this day in 1980

On this day in 1980 a huge bomb devastated Bologna’s central railway station, killing at least 75 people and wounding more than 200. The device exploded at 1025 local time in the air-conditioned waiting room, which was crowded with people trying to escape the heat. Most of the victims of the blast were Italian, but it is believed some foreign tourists were among the dead.

A neo-fascist group called the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari (Armed Revolutionary Nuclei) rang a Rome newspaper three hours after the attack to say it planted the bomb, but similar claims were also made by the far-left Red Brigade. There were also allegations that one of the phone calls made to claim the attack came from SISMI, the Italian security service. Some believed the attack was carried out by right-wing extremists – possibly to stir public opinion against Italian communists. That is quite a roster!

There was blood all over me. Everyone was running, shouting and screaming. People were coming out of the station with blood streaming from their wounds. One middle-aged man was carried to an ambulance with blood pouring from a severed leg.

In the end does it really matter who was behind the attack? Innocent people lost their lives because some group wanted to ‘make a point’. Surely there are better ways to do so?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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