On this day in 1974, Italian prosecutor Mario Sossi is kidnapped by the Red Brigades. It was the first time that the left-wing terrorist group had directly struck the Italian government, marking the beginning of tensions that lasted for 10 years.
The Red Brigades were founded by college student Renato Curcio in 1969 to battle “against the imperialist state of the multinationals.” At first, the fledgling organization restricted its activities to small acts of vandalism and arson. However, in 1972, they abducted business executive Idalgo Macchiarini, releasing him a short time later with a sign that said, “Hit one to educate 100. Power to the armed populace.” The Red Brigades kidnapped several other executives in the years following.
The kidnapping of Mario Sossi marked the first time that the Red Brigades demanded a ransom: They insisted on the release of eight imprisoned members. After fellow prosecutor Francesco Coco agreed to the demand, Sossi was released. However, Coco reneged on the deal and infuriated the Red Brigades.
Over the next several years, the terrorist group kidnapped 26 wealthy men and women to fund their criminal enterprises, extorting as much as $2 million for one abduction. They also got revenge on Coco, killing him in 1976. That same year, 49 members were prosecuted in Turin, prompting several retaliatory shootings against government officials.
In 1978, the ante was upped even further after some of the Red Brigades’ leaders were arrested. Aldo Moro, a former Italian prime minister, was kidnapped on March 16, 1978, and five bodyguards were killed in the attack. For 55 days, the terrorists made various demands while taunting Moro’s family with fake death announcements. On May 9, after their demands were refused, Moro’s body was found in the trunk of a red car in the middle of Rome. He had been shot 11 times in the chest. The Red Brigades killed seven more politicians in the next week, terrorizing the whole country of Italy.
Sixty-three persons ended up being charged with involvement in Moro’s murder. Prospero Gallinari, the actual shooter, and 22 others were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Red Brigades were finally crushed in the early 1980s when over 400 members were jailed.