Are Old Terror Groups Re-Forming?

The cold-blooded murder of a government official stunned Italy last month. Now observers hope the killing is not the first shot in a revival of terror groups that have lain dormant for years.

Police have suggested a faction of Italy's Red Brigades, who terrorized the country in the 1970s and 1980s, is behind the March 19 killing of Marco Biagi, an official in the labor ministry.

The next day, a bomb near the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, killed nine people, with the country's interior ministry blaming an offshoot of that country's notorious Shining Path terrorists for the attack.

Until this year, the Red Brigades had been held responsible for just one killing in recent years, while the Shining Path, which waged a virtual civil war for control of Peru during the 1980s, was decimated in the early 1990s.

The apparent return of older groups has added to the concerns of government officials still devising new security tactics after the al Qaeda terror organization's Sept. 11 assault on the United States. Why have the Red Brigades and other non-Islamic groups seemingly stepped up their efforts? Have they become emboldened after Sept. 11?

With the threat of terrorism a major security concern for the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece — where the November 17 terrorist group, also formed in the 1970s, continues to operate — these are hardly idle questions.

"There's a recent history that can't be ignored," said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after a bomb exploded outside the country's interior ministry in Rome in February. "This is a worrying signal and it would be a mistake to underestimate it."

Resurgence of Anti-Capitalism?

Most terrorism experts, however, feel it is premature to assess whether or not some of these groups are clambering back out of the dustbin of history.

"It's too early to say how widespread the support is, or how it is organized," says Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

In Italy, Biagi's murder is officially still an open case, and politicians on the left in Italy have been quick to find a political motivation behind the comments of the conservative Berlusconi, who cited left-wing protests and rhetoric as a potential source of terrorism.

Still, some observers feel the enormous social and political uncertainties surrounding contemporary Europe at a time of economic globalization and integration, along with large-scale immigration, might provide the sort of conditions in which reconstituted terror groups could draw new support.

"There's a new marketplace for ideas and recruitment," says Stephen Sloan, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, and co-editor of the Historical Dictionary of Terrorism, noting the "thrust toward violence on the part of various people who oppose globalization."

Indeed, proponents of globalization already appear to be terror targets. Biagi, for instance, had proposed reforms making it easier for companies to fire workers, while Massimo D'Antona, another labor official, was killed in 1999, with the Red Brigades claiming responsibility. And Italian police say they uncovered a plot to kill President Bush during the G-8 economic summit in Genoa last July.

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