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May Today in Terrorism

May 17, 1973: Anarchist throws hand grenade into a crowd in Italy

On May 17, 1973 an Italian anarchist terrorist killed four people and injured a further 45 people outside police headquarters in Milan, Italy

MILAN, ITALY – Even if certain ‘waves’ of terrorism are believed to have largely passed the odd ‘blast from the past’ can still occur.

Fashion is a fickle thing. I have never been known to be someone overly concerned with what I wear – heck, now that I am retired it’s all hockey jerseys and jeans (full disclosure: I used to wear that when I was at CSIS!) – but even I know that some styles are passé (I still don’t care but I do at least know).

Take bellbottom pants. Yes, yes, I am old enough to remember wearing them in elementary school in the 1960s and early 1970s and must confess to owing a paisley pair! I may not have been part of the ‘fashion plate’ but they were comfortable!

Ringing in a new look! (Photo: The Texas Collection, Baylor University on flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

The same goes for terrorist movements.

As aptly described by David Rapoport (who appeared on a Borealis podcast in July 2020) the first ‘wave’ of terrorism in modern history was what he labeled the ‘anarchist wave’. It dominated from the mid-to late 19th century and petered out around the time of WWI. Most anarchists went quietly into the night…

…but some did not.

On this day in 1973

Four people were killed and 45 people injured by a hand grenade hurled into a crowd outside police headquarters in Milan at the end of a ceremony commemorating a slain law enforcement officer. In the immediate aftermath police arrested a bearded middle‐aged man, whom eyewitnesses reported had thrown the hand grenade, and later identified him as 40-year old Gianfranco Bertoli, an anarchist with a long criminal record.

Nell’arco di vent’anni, sia quando ancora mi adagiavo nella certezza che il mio atto di violenza fosse stato giusto. (Translation: For 20 years I have been certain that my act of violence was correct)

Gianfranco Bertoli

Oddly, we are seeing a ‘return’, if that is the best word to describe it, of anarchist groups in the West. Gee, I wonder if that means bellbottoms are also on the way back: I am sure I have a pair stashed away somewhere!

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By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. and Director of the National Security programme at the University of Ottawa’s Professional Development Institute (PDI). Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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