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The story of an Italian utility car
Recent history of Italy has been characterized by terror and violence. The official records, and more dramatically the living memory of people, bear the scars of such a trail of crimes, blood and death, that started with the birth of our Republic after the end of Second World War, and crawled until now. Despite such criminal actions seem to be inseparable from the concept of Italian Republic, the most severe concentration of their occurrence is framed between 1969 and 1993. I myself have direct memories of some of them, like the massacre of the judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino in 1992, as well as the bombing on the rapido 904 – a passenger train blown up into a tunnel in 1984 –, causing the death of 17 innocent people.
In spite of the variety of actions, their leading forces can be ascribed to a couple of different entities, namely, criminal organizations – like Mafia – on one side, and terrorist cells driven by extreme political ideologies, like Brigate Rosse (the Red Brigades), inspired by left party ideologies, and Ordine Nuovo (the New Order), with ideas coming from extreme right party. In all of these circumstances the Italian Republic was somehow involved. Many times as final recipient or direct target of the criminal actions. Other times, more ambiguously, as suspected partner in crime, through the indirect or direct involvement of minor parts of its apparatus, like diverted branches of information and secret services.
Beside this rather worrying scenario, the criminal records of Italy have also been populated by common criminals. The most representative character belonging to such a category is probably Renato Vallanzasca, who succeeded in carrying out plenty of fruitful robberies and kidnaps in the '70s and '80s.
Having in mind this background, the case I would like to report in this article is, if possible, by far the most worrying, as it is a mixing of terrorist, paramilitary and criminal aspects, racism and violence against common people, arousing a feeling of terror and vulnerability comparable to those caused by a war.
They have been known as la banda della Uno bianca, literally the gang of the white Uno, because they used to drive a white utility car by Fiat (the Uno, indeed, which literally means one) very popular in the '80s. The book written by Massimiliano Mazzanti, entitled Uno Bianca – La banda di Roberto e Fabio Savi and published by Lupo Edizioni in 2008, outlines very comprehensively the evolution of the criminal group, and provides a significant amount of details about the characteristics of their actions.
The criminal activity of the gang started in 1987 with a series of robberies at toll gates along the Adriatic Highway (the A14) between Pesaro, Rimini and Bologna. Since then, they committed 103 criminal actions, killed 24 people (8 among Police agents and guards; 16 innocent and defenceless common people) and injured 102 people, in various bank, gas station and shop robberies, as well as in actual terrorist actions, in which the main aim was not money.
In seven years, the gang managed to collect a poor booty slightly larger than the equivalent of about one million Euro. Given their ability in carrying out assaults and military actions, it is clear that if robberies were their main objective, the amount mentioned above would have been totally inadequate.
On the other hand, the gang carried out plenty of actions apparently driven by the sole motivation of killing people and disseminating terror. For instance, when escaping after a robbery in a grocery store nearby Bologna in 1990, they killed in cold blood an unarmed man, just because he was writing down the license plate numbers of their car.
The aspect of racism belonged to the gang as well. In 1990 they started shooting against a Roma camp, located in a peripheral area of Bologna, without a specific reason, apart from killing. The two victims were a woman inside a caravan and a man who was working.
However, the most brutal action accomplished by the gang is dated January the 4th 1991, when three Carabinieri (the Italian Military Police) – the oldest one was 22 – were massacred by a storm of bullets, without even the time to respond appropriately to the fire. The approach followed by the gang of the white Uno that night was unmistakeably professional. One man blocked the car of Carabinieri with a rifle loaded with heavy bullets. The second man used a rifle loaded with light and high-speed bullets, having a devastating effect on human targets. Finally, a third man was covering the other two with another weapon during the whole action.
Theories and speculations about the nature of such a criminal group spread with no control, both concerning the official investigations conducted by the Police, as well as in public opinion. They were clearly professionals in handling weaponry and in assault actions. For instance, the AR 70 assault rifle by Beretta, used in several gang's actions, was the official weaponry of some NATO military divisions.
Moreover, they attacked for seven years without ever being subjected to any actions of assault disengagement, captured, or seriously injured. How did it happen? Maybe because they were always shooting at first and for killing, against Policemen or common unarmed people, it did not really matter. Or maybe it happened because they were covered by someone or something.
It did not take too long before some theories started to appear, according to which the gang was covered or formed by people belonging to secret services. After all, the assault technique mentioned above was the same adopted by the Brabant killers, a criminal group acting in Belgium in the first half of '80s. After being captured, presence of an unofficial Atlantic secret organization was discovered behind their actions. A paramilitary organization similar to the one officially unveiled in Italy in 1990 and named Gladio.
This scenario looks confused and spooky enough to be a perfect story for a successful noir novel – a gloomy and frequent side effect of several Italian gory stories without a clear explanation. Nonetheless, sometimes reality is by far more astonishing than fiction and hypotheses.
After seven years of crimes, the Police investigations were stuck since a long time, some people were arrested for being the suspected members of the gang – then released –, and the attention of the public opinion was unavoidably fading.
However, thanks to the personal initiative of two Policemen working at the Police station of Rimini, investigations went on. They started to lay in wait in front of the banks that could have been potential targets of the group, and after many weeks they identified one component of the gang. In a couple of weeks, all the responsible of several years of death and terror were brought to justice.
The gang of the white Uno turned out to be composed by a main core of three brothers, plus three people who were collaborating less often with them. The detail making reality more incredible than fiction is that five out of six people were Policemen. Neither retired, nor former agents, but Policemen regularly on duty in the Police stations of Bologna and Rimini at the time of the criminal actions. It happened that a few hours after killing someone, the murderers were visiting again the crime scene dressing the Police uniform and investigating on themselves.
Definitely, one of the worst cases which the Police and, more in general, Italian Institutions and society found themselves to go through, since ever.