The “XXII October” gang in Genoa
and the underworld as terrorism
What is commonly referred to as the “XXII October” gang is the story of a group of young Genoese, whose criminal actions, between 1969 and 1971, upset the tranquillity of the Liguria capital. It is the story, in particular, of a self-named ‘revolutionary’ extreme Left group, inspired to contest with violence the system of social, economic and political relations at the end of the 1960’s. This movement left behind numerous questions as to its effectiveness, numerical force and political and ideological heritage. The study of the events which characterized the activity of the group, in the city of Genoa, has never been done in any detail. However, in the first interpretations of the “XXII October” gang’s initial criminal activities, one common idea prevailed: that they were nothing more than a disorganized gang of boys playing at revolutions. In this respect, the term “gang”, which was attributed to them, explains very well the mildness of the judgement expressed on their account. In reality, the trail of attacks and death which marked the brief passage of the “XXII October” on the Genoese scene, and the ties which were cemented between their militants and the Red Brigades of the Sossi kidnapping, obviously goes against the previously mentioned intention to under-estimate, at least at the beginning, this phenomenon.
Murder of Floris
The reason why the 'XXII October' group originated - as confirmed by the group itself - was to introduce into the Italian political life, the concept of urban guerrilla warfare, characterized by explosions, fires and sabotage, giving it as much publicity as possible, in the hope of obtaining public support for its actions and objectives. To use the language of the band itself, the final objective of the 'XXII October' group was “to disrupt the power of the State”.
This, at least, is what emerged from the intentions manifested by the members of the organization; it certainly cannot be hidden that from a critical re-reading of the events tied to the group, the political aspirations of its members - and of its leaders - were rather modest and that the motivation of the organization was, perhaps, the search, at any cost, for a radical change, in evident disagreement, with the way in which the PCI (Italian Communist Party) was carrying forward the Party’s political battle.
From a strictly operative viewpoint, the' XXII October' gang made no mystery of aspiring to the methods of urban guerrilla warfare theorized by the Brazilian revolutionary, Carlos Marighella, in his “Pocket manual of the urban guerrilla”. Many of the actions performed by the group, coincided exactly, as did the chosen objectives, with the contents of the manual, which identified in the representatives of the capitalistic and industrial world (among which, the United States) and their supporters, the enemies against whom they would conduct wearing and systematic actions of sabotage and destruction.
It was not a coincidence that among the criminal undertakings of the 'XXII October' group, there were incendiary attacks upon the companies and industrial groups which represented, at the time, the clearest symbols of Italian capitalism (for example; Ignis and the Garron refinery) and also upon institutional representatives, such as the US Consulate in Genoa or barracks of the Carabinieri.
But the most negative sign, and that which compromised any future consolidation for the organization was their incapacity to win the support of the protest movement which had formed in Italy at the end of the 60’s and to create with them a ground of confrontation and, at the same time, support for their actions.
Probably the conviction/presumption prevailed that at the beginning of the 70’s, Genoa still conserved the distinguishing features which had characterized it during the course of the Second World War, and which had won the city the gold medal of the Resistance – or in more recent times – the same features which had brought down the Tambroni government, for the famous episodes of Piazza de’ Ferrari in the summer of 1960.
The truth is that the aspiration to unite the student movements of the burning Autumn of 1969 and the Workers’ struggle for union rights in the factories, into a single social context, only came about much later, beginning from 1975, when the 'XXII October' movement was simply a memory among the many sad and bloody pages which marked the history of red terrorism in the city of Genoa.
The group did not under-estimate the importance of propaganda activities and, above all, the necessity of underscoring the ideological ties with the movements of the past. The famous interference on the 1st channel of the R.A.I. (Italian Broadcasting Corporation) in which the group claimed their first criminal actions, and then all the other initiatives realized during the course of 1970 and 1971, demonstrated the organization’s attention towards an embryonic mediatic propaganda and, even more, their appeal made to GAP (Groups of Partisan Action) and to the fight against capitalism, fascism, industry, the United States, NATO and Franco Spain, denoted, at least in theory, their desire to stimulate the spirit against oppression, which was, in fact, the motivating principle of the resistance conducted by the first Genovese partisan action groups after the September of 1943.
The group and its members
The undisputed leader of the associative organization was the Genoese, Mario Rossi, at the time, little more than 30 years of age. With him were Augusto Viel, Giuseppe Battaglia, Adolfo Sanguineti and Alfred Maino, identified as being the founders of the group, which takes it name from the day on which it was constituted, i.e the 22nd of October, 1969.
The majority of its members, which reached a number of not more than 25, in the period of maximum organic capacity of the group, came from Val Bisogno (1) and were, for the most part, exponents of the proletariat, even though, as we shall see, the most characteristic feature of the 'XXII October' was that of the heterogeneity of the political provenance of its members. Some of them even claimed membership in the Communist Party, but much earlier than the first actions of the group, these components were oriented towards a complete break with the communist politics and organization, adhering, in particular, to the growing Maoist groups.
But there were also those among the members of the' XXII October' who, due to their past experiences with the law, were completely oblivious to any political connotation of the movement, and who understood their membership in the purely utilitarian sense of dividing the economic gains of the criminal actions and, in no way, were they motivated by ideological convictions.
Indeed, it was this tolerance towards the presence of these indifferent companions which undermined the solidarity of the group.
We must discard, as has already been said, the idea that it was a spontaneous or merely ideological gathering. Instead, it is nearer the truth to say that the'XXII October' gang was the result, admittedly modest, of a ‘political operation’ which knew how to choose the right human material from the four Ligurian extremist elements: groups with Maoist tendencies; groups from the lower city neighbourhoods; groups from the local criminality, and fascist groups (which was the case of the militant, Diego Randelli).
The projects of the group
It is certainly possible to divide the life of the terrorist formation into two distinctive, but not separate phases. The first, which sees the constitution of a heterogeneous nucleus of people, united by generic and confused ideas along the political lines expressed by the Workers’ movement, and the subsequent contact between some of its components and equivocal personalities belonging to the local political undergrowth.
A second phase, marked instead by the unexpected decision of the group, to model themselves on a military organization of South American guerrillas. There was clear evidence of the days of training in real military style, carried out by the group in the hilly zone around the locality of Pigma (IM), which in the eyes of Rossi, would serve both to increase the military-organizational potentiality of the group and to develop, in the individuals involved, that common sense of belonging which the militants were still lacking.
There was a period in which these two essences of the 'XXII October' came to merge: it was, more or less, in that epoch in which Rossi and his companions organized a series of guerrilla-styled actions, to allow the violence of the attack itself to manifest their dissent against the exponents of that pro-American capitalism which, in their opinion, was considered guilty of financing and protecting the black machination of the Country.
With this reasoning then, the attack is collocated at the petrol refinery of Arquata Scrivia (AL), on the 18th of February, 1971, the property of “that Edoardo Garrone” whom the militants of the 'XXII October' group brand as a “great corrupter of the State”, “a poisoner of the proletariat” as well as “a Fascist close to the ideas of the Black Prince, Junio Valerio Borghese”. As was reconstructed by the investigators, the authors had used trinitrotoluol (T.N.T.) and dynamite to perforate, inside the refinery, the walls of the spherical containers which were full of propane-butane, thus provoking the lethal explosion and the resulting fire; then resorting to the usual TV transmission interference to claim the action and publicize the results.
The Garrone Refinery operation was a success, both from the political aspect, inasmuch as the damage caused by the fire delivered a heavy financial blow to the Garrone family and slowed down productive activity, and from the military aspect, since all of the operations, starting from the on-the-spot checks of the weeks previous to the attack, had been conducted to perfection and without the minimum difficulty.
A few days prior to the Garrone refinery explosion, there had been an attack on the Ignis deposit on the 6th February, 1971. In the same way as for the Garrone refinery attack, the action against Ignis of Sestri Ponente, which caused a fire of enormous proportions, was claimed by using the identical modality: the voice, filtered through television transmissions. This time, they were aiming for the owner of the Ignis, the business magnet, Donghi, “guilty of getting rich on the backs of the workers, and of financing the fascist squads”.
In the same series of programmed attacks, there was the one to be collocated at the U.S. Consulate in Genoa, in Piazza Portello on the 8th May, 1970 and another at the seat of the United Socialist Party in Via Teano on the 24 of April, 1970.
Both of these initiatives, as well as the one involving the Carabinieri armoured car parked near the Via Morosco barracks in Genoa, were characterized by the same operative modality. Cylinders of dynamite or gelatine explosive connected to a fuse which, in the case of the Carabinieri barracks, burned out before igniting the explosives, and in the case of the U.S. Consulate was, fortunately, defused by security guards. Thus avoiding, by pure chance, a final explosion.
It is evident, therefore, that only a pure fatality impeded the tragedy of dead and wounded in actions which had been previously described as causing only material damage. The night hours in which the fire attacks had been made seemed to respond more to a calculated choice to render escape easier and identification more difficult, rather than a desire to limit, to a maximum, the involvement of human beings.
After all, it was the same manual of warfare by which Rossi and his companions had been inspired to prescribe the night hours as the most effective time for the attacks.
The Gadolla kidnapping and the robbery
at the ‘Istituto Autonomo Case Popolari’
The criminal parabola of the 'XXII October' group begins and ends with actions typically directed towards the economic support of the organization.
It is a strange destiny which links these two criminal episodes: the first, marks the appearance of Rossi and his supporters on the galactic scene of criminal organizations of the epoch; the second, relative to the IACP robbery, will taste the scarce operative capacity and total organizational inefficiency which, inevitably, will sanction the end of the group.
The kidnapping of the son of the Genoese industrialist, Gadolla, is the beginning of a long series of kidnappings which characterize the Ligure-Piedmont area during the course of the 1970-1980 decade.
However, it would be a simplistic error to compare the Sergio Gadolla kidnapping by the 'XXII October' group with that of the Magistrate, Mario Sossi, perpetrated by the Red Brigades some years later.
In fact, it is certain that what pushed Rossi and his supporters to kidnap the young Gadolla was neither the search for political acclamation nor official recognition from the State, but rather, to provide economic sustenance to the group, at the beginning of their activities. For certain members of the group (in primis, Veil), the action represented the single purpose of personal gain: an objective which an isolated and individual action could certainly not have guaranteed.
This is why, already from the point of view of political dignity, the Gadolla kidnapping had nothing, whatsoever, to do with the need to publicize the existence of the group.
In addition, the success of the action was more a result of a combination of chance events than a synthesis of the organizational capacity of the 'XXII October': on more than on occasion, Rossi and his comrades were on the point of discarding the project and only the stubborness of certain members was responsible for bringing it to a conclusion.
In fact, in the months subsequent to obtaining the ransom, desertions and exiles from the organization were recorded, due to the purely utilitarian attitude which had been assumed by several of the participants in the kidnapping of the young Gadolla.
Notwithstanding some glaring errors committed by the 'XXII October' group in the course of the action, like the numerous fingerprints taken by the Police from the interior of the kidnappers’ abandoned car or, incredibly, clothes belonging to several of the band, forgotten in the boot of same car, the Gadolla kidnapping was followed by the public with uneasy attention, increased by the newness of the modality of the crime, which before that time, had never been experienced in Genoa or the surrounding areas.
The sensation that they were observing a situation which was completely foreign to the Genoese underworld was acutely felt by the population: they were familiar with the type of criminality which were accustomed to controlling drug and prostitution traffic in port areas, but which were not inclined to embark on such hazardous undertakings with such uncertain outcomes. The modality of the action and request for ransom gave no reason to suspect the involvement of the Sardinian banditry.
The kidnapping of Gadolla was too different from those undertaken by the Sardinians in those years, as was the attitude of the kidnappers towards the victim and his family.
The idea was quickly rumoured that the kidnapping was a sign of a change in the conditions and balances in the criminal world which had evolved over the course of time in the Ligurian capital: an upset of balances which only a peculiar phenomenon such as the emerging one of terrorism could create. And also the fervent consultations with information sources by the police during the days subsequent to the kidnapping, all pointed in the same direction: the absolute exclusion of the possibility that the Genoese criminal context could be responsible for such an astonishingly conspicuous action.
Certainly, the kidnappers should be sought in the same geographical areas, but in a totally different line of direction.
The surprise effect upon the law enforcement body was such as to render the immediate investigative activities practically useless. It proved to be a comparatively ‘easy game’ for the 'XXII October' group to bring the operation to a conclusion, and obtain the entire amount of the ransom; around 200 million lire, which, for the time, was a considerably large sum of money.
It was only the dissention within the group and the custodial difficulties of the prisoner, on the high grounds of Mount Bue, exacerbated by the precarious climatic conditions, which represented a serious threat to the positive outcome of the kidnapping.
Nevertheless, the basic error committed by Rossi and the other associates was in not knowing how to measure the effective consistence of the means at their disposal, both material and human, in the choice of the objectives of their actions.
There is no doubt that with respect to the incendiary and demonstration actions previously mentioned, a totally different preparation was needed for an action like the IACP robbery, which, in fact, proved fatal for the group. Never, as in this criminal undertaken, were the organizational limitations of the members of the 'XXII October' group who participated in this initiative, so apparent.
The decision to rob the IACP was, in fact, determined soley on the conviction that they could count on the information supplied by one of the group members, Battaglia, at that time, employee of the Institute. Needless to say, the objective proved to be, in retrospect, doubly inauspicious. In other words, not only for the unexpected resistance of the employee, Alessandro Floris, who carried the bag containing the money - and was killed by shots fired by Rossi - but for the error in evaluating the IACP Institute as a suitable objective: an Institute which, par excellence, embodied the interests and people of the proletarian world.
This was, without a doubt, the gross strategic error committed by Rossi and companions. An error which was further magnified by the death of a young man of humble origin, killed in the execution of his duty. Moreover, the tragic end of Floris concealed an act of betrayal: that of Battaglia, who had resold to the organization, the information regarding the times and mode of transport of the Institute’s money.
Apart from the already grave responsibility of homicide, these aspects, undoubtedly, contributed to qualify this criminal gesture of the 'XXII October' band as exceedingly negative. As previously mentioned, also here, the imprecisions and approximations which had characterized the executive phase of the operation, proved to be fatal.
Even with the information furnished by Battaglia, Rossi was not able to perfect a plan which could cope with unforeseen eventualities. The modification of the usual route taken by the IACP messengers was sufficient to ruin the already weak operative plan and to throw Rossi into confusion. The consequence of which is known. After grabbing the bag, Rossi reacts by firing shots to stop his pursuers. The last instants of the life of Alessandro Floris are immortalized in snapshots taken from a window by an amateur photographer. Those crystallized images were an indelible mark for Rossi, not only to ascertain his guilt in a court of law, but for the entire public opinion, which could actually see the deadly ferocity of Rossi in the act of shooting the defenceless messenger.
This explains the intransigent attitude of certain sectors, which for ideological traditions, should have taken a more indulgent position towards Rossi and his comrades. After all, as has been repeated several times, the manual of Carlos Marighella, the bible of inspiration for the actions of the group, dedicates prominence in its pages to the necessity that each action, demonstrative or directed towards self-financing, must not result in death, or even wounding, of the civilian population.
The XXII October Group trial
The entire judicial affair, which opened with the ‘on the spot’ arrest of Rossi and Viel, after their vain attempt to escape, had a vast mediatic echo, not only in Genoa, but nationally and abroad. In Italy, the atmosphere of the trial of the 'XXII October' group, reflected distain and reproach for those who had not hesitated to kill a man in cold blood, to obtain a mere economic advantage. But besides such a wide call for an exemplary punishment, the trial also records the vibrant protests of the counsel for the defence, who more than once, complained about the systematic violation of defence rights verified during the course of the trial proceedings.
In particular, the regularity of many cross-examinations of the defendants was contested and the limited possibility left to the Defence to contest, also through alternative reconstructions, the conclusions on which the charge was reached.
However, the presumed distortions which had characterized the 'XXII October' group trial received transnational interest, also for the support which the militant group received from the French Left Wing newspaper, the Liberation. Even a movement called “Comité aux camarades du 'XXII Ottober”' was formed in support of the moral cause of the Italian comrades submitted to a trial, in their words, “worthy of a South American dictatorship”.
Some very distinguished and authoritative representatives of the French culture adhered to the “comité”, such as the writer, Jean Paul Sartre and the film director, Jean Luc Godard, who fully shared the proclamations and anathema which, through its columns, the newspaper, Liberation, launched at the Italian judicial apparatus, guilty of transforming a case of manslaughter into a case of lst degree murder and to have summarily condemned as accomplices also those who had not participated in the tragic criminal action.
It criticized, in particular, the behaviour of the judges, without distinction of role and function, whom, it accused, were guilty of handing down heavy sentences without real proof, through evidence and testimony defined as ‘ridiculous’, and of taking advantage of a public which was distracted by price rises, the petroleum scandal and government corruption. In short, it accused the judicial authorities of having suffocated the defence process of the 'XXII October' group members and to have rendered it exceedingly difficult by imposing numerous and systematic transfers of the group, from one penitentiary to another.
Among the images which most emblematically describe the discouraged state of the group members, is the picture of Mario Rossi with a long beard and clenched fists who, from behind the bars, vehemently and insolently challenges the judges of the Appeal Court of Assizes to finish up the trial immediately and confirm the sentences passed down in the 1st degree trial.
It must be said that the imprisonment of Rossi during the period between the 1st and 2nd degree trial, had made his person somewhat mythical. That figure, which might have seemed, at the beginning, the icon of a 30-year-old misfit, inclined, as were many contemporaries of his time, to robberies and streets politics accompanied by scuffles and chanted slogans at protest demonstrations, was progressively transformed, without any real contribution from Rossi himself.
In other words, we might describe it this way; that during imprisonment, there was a mediatic transformation of the person into a mythical figure. It was this that made Mario Rossi into the leader of a real armed movement and not, certainly, his modest theoretical-politics production.
Even more instrumental in affirming this image was the comparison, too simplified in reality, between the ‘Partisan Action groups’ (GAP), the very core of the Genovese resistance, and the 'XXII October' militants: a decisively daring comparison from an historical standpoint, which concluded in granting Rossi and his associates and ideological importance which did not correspond to the actual consistency of the group.
It became a widespread idea, particularly in journalistic circles, that this over-estimation of the group’s potential ‘danger’ responded to a precise repressive strategy, due to the necessity of finding an adequate justification for the heavy sentences imposed on the gang components.
In other words, the ‘dangerous’ ideological impulse which animated Rossi and his companions along their criminal path and culminated in the assassination of Alessandro Floris, was simply a judicial fabrication.
After all, as has been said already, the theoretical political ideology of the group was elaborated by Rossi alone, and it is clear that a picture of a leader sitting behind bars, writing his guerrilla manual on toilet paper, taking his material largely from the works of Marighella, did not represent, for the epoch, a great element of ideological importance for an organization.
But, in the history of the 'XXII October' group, it is possible to discern a smaller one- the one that takes its start from the magistrate, representative of the office of the Public Prosecutor, who conducted the inquiry and then the indictment in the trial of the 'XXII October' band: Mario Sossi.
By virtue of his reputation of being ‘tough’, which he had gained in the first rather clamorous inquiry held in Genoa in the very first years of the 70’s, Magistrate Mario Sossi represented, for the Genovese radical Left environment, the emblem of the repressive apparatus of a Fascist State. This explains the rising chorus of protests and the number of violent reactions which exploded in the areas which were ideologically close to the ideas of Rossi and comrades, when it became clear that the judicial fate of the 'XXII October' group would be reliant also upon the evaluations of this Magistrate.
Very soon, Mario Sossi was attributed the paternity of the decisional outcomes of a trial which had been judged devoid of even the minimal legal requisites. It was a worrying signal. However, it was greatly under-estimated. No-one, at the time, guessed that what appeared to be, at the most, a simple psychological war against a magistrate, by means of slogans and campaigns strongly criticizing his firm and scrupulous stand, would give way, only a few months after the end of the trial, to his kidnapping by the newly constituted Red Brigades.
But, above all, no-one could have ever imagined that the price asked for the liberation of Doctor Sossi would be, in turn, the liberation of the 'XXII October' group militants. Especially, since their sentences passed down in the 1st degree trail had been re-confirmed by the Court of Appeal.
With the kidnapping of Judge Sossi, perhaps the last and decisive chapter in the history of the 'XXII October' group was written; certainly fundamental to a clearer understanding of the origins of the terrorist phenomenon of the Left.
With the request for the release of Rossi and his companions, the existence of a genetic link between the Red Brigades and the 'XXII October' was universally clear; a tie which, although not demonstrated at a judicial level, lead the first Red Brigades onto the political-ideological path, yet unclear, which Rossi and his companions had traced on their own initiative.
Suddenly, those who had been, perhaps, not wrongly, but with too much haste, qualified as the children of the cultural and ideological troubles or, otherwise, the most bloody split of the ‘movement’ which was spreading in those years, were re-named the supposed fathers of the emerging terrorism.
Looking back over the years, it may reasonably be said that the filial relation, which seemed to tie the RB to the 'XXII October' group was more apparent than concrete.
The examples, unfortunately, also recent ones, which the history of more than 30 years of Italian terrorism has furnished, authorize a different evaluation with respect to that elaborated during those years. In the sense of being able to affirm that not every terrorist action which expressed itself, also through the request for liberation of comrades belonging to different subversive organizations, meant that there was a sure filial connection between the groups.
It is true, instead, that similar attitudes must be understood rather as the sharing of a common political-strategic path, as a true intellectual adhesion to the projects of the other.
So then if the RB – 'XXII October' group relation is understood in these terms, one can give an explanation for the difficulties of the investigators in trying to identify the existence of an exchange passage between the two formations.
With the RB’s choice to liberate Judge Rossi without receiving anything in exchange, the curtain falls definitively on the organization of Mario Rossi and his companions.
As often happens in the history of Italy, also the criminal actions of the 'XXII October' group and its brief, but intense existence has, on more than one occasion, been remembered when, in subsequent years in the city of Genoa, there have been other episodes of political clashes which have ended in bloodshed.
For Genoa and its citizens, the sinister memory of Rossi and his companions returned promptly to mind whenever the judicial chronicles of the 70’s and 80’s gave news of dead and injured, in the name of an absurd armed struggle.
But there is a strange fact that the Genoa of the 'XXII October and that of the Red Brigades has in common and this is constituted in the total refusal and opposition of the Genovese citizens towards the terrorist phenomenon.
It must be understood that phenomena like the 'XXII October' group and the Red Brigades were the natural fruit of the history of the Genoese resistance. The Ligurian capital is one of the few cities where the opposition to the terrorist phenomenon was so evident and where complete collaboration between the citizens and the law enforcement existed. The sacrifice of people like the trade unionist, Guido Rossa is emblematic of the resistance of the Genoese society to the ideology of the armed struggle.
This was the real essence of the Genovese resistance: that of a city in which the workers’ movement, elsewhere a true forge for terrorist organizations, was, at least, for the greatest part, able to resist the enticement of who, behind the false myth of a proletariat dictatorship, only knew how to sow death and tragedy.
(1) This area of the Ligurian capital, already, in the 2nd WW, was noted as being the zone of origin of the majority of the partisans who had fed the fight in the Ligurian Piedmont Apennines.