ROME—The high-speed train lines that link Italy’s largest cities are crucial arteries used by thousands of people every day for business and pleasure. But lately they have been the focus of provocateurs aiming to spread terror on the train line.
Since the first of December, there have been six fires set along Italy’s high-speed lines—two near Florence and four near Bologna. The rogue fires disrupted service for hours and panicked passengers who found themselves in high velocity trains screeching to a halt to avoid the infernos.
Authorities blame anarchists protesting a proposed high-speed rail line called TAV that will link Turin and Lyon, France. No-TAV graffiti was found at the sites of all the fires. And the authorities also worry that the December fires are just the beginning.
"What I feared would happen has happened: a new act of terrorism against the TAV,” said Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi. "But they won't stop us on the road to innovating and changing Italy.”
Three hooded arsonists were caught on a private surveillance camera setting some of the fires in the early morning fog near Bologna. But they are impossible to identify positively, according to prosecutors who worked through the Christmas holidays on the case. Extra security was also set up along the lines to monitor other signs of potential sabotage. The Bologna fires destroyed the regional train traffic control system, which put the entire rail network in northern Italy on hold until it could be repaired.
“There is a serious danger it could cause a train crash,” Bologna prosecutor Roberto Alfonso told reporters on Christmas Day.
The TAV tunnel drilling site through the Alps in the Susa Valley in northern Italy has been under constant attack since it opened in 2011. It is now protected by military checkpoints to keep the No-TAV protesters at bay, which is why they are targeting other rail lines, says Lupi.
Last month, a militant group known as Armed Operational Nuclei (NOA) asked No-TAV protesters to join what they called an “armed struggle” against the governments of Italy and France, which say they will persist with the rail line at all costs.
In an open letter sent to Italy’s wire service ANSA last fall, the armed group called for increased violence. “Do not use complaints, courts and lawyers to beat and to silence the enemy,” the NOA activists wrote. “You must practice armed struggle."
The governments of Italy and France contend that once the line’s main 40-mile tunnel is bored through the Alps, the project will be good for the environment by reducing highway traffic. The project is partially funded by the European Union, which has made linking the high-speed train lines of Italy and France an infrastructural priority for all of Europe.
The TAV project has also been the subject of a criminal investigation by anti-Mafia prosecutors who worry that the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate has corrupted the project, and will benefit from the new corridor for trafficking illegal waste and other contraband goods. In July, 20 people were arrested in Turin for attempting to infiltrate the project by manipulating the awarding of contracts without a proper bidding process.
Last week, a Turin court convicted four “No-TAV” protestors for a 2013 attack on the tunnel drill site, but acquitted them on terrorist charges. The four have been in a high-security prison since their arrest but were released to house arrest after being cleared of the terrorism charges.
Transport minister Lupi condemned the release and terrorism acquittals, and warned that it could lead to more violence and threats of the type seen in December. “If putting on hoods and organizing an attack on the State is not association for terrorist ends, someone must explain to me what it is," Lupi said. “Personally, I can’t understand how you can define an assault with fires and bombs as anything but terrorism.”