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3:22pm UK, Saturday May 19, 2012
One student has been killed and seven others injured in a suspected mafia bomb blast at a school in southern Italy.
Two powerful explosions scattered deadly shrapnel across a wide area just as students were arriving for Saturday morning lessons.
Melissa Bassi, 16, suffered horrific injuries in the blast and was taken to hospital but died a short while later.
Victim Melissa Bassi, aged 16, who was killed in the blast
Doctors are still battling to save the life of another victim, Veronica Capodieci, whose condition has been described as “life threatening”.
Paramedics and police were quickly at the scene and TV footage showed the blast area as shocked students gathered outside the building.
Although there was no claim of responsibility police later said that a timing device had been recovered from the scene.
All the indications are that the bomb was the work of organised crime and the tragedy may be linked to an anti-mafia protest and that the local mafia, the Sacra Corona Unita.
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Monti, who is at Camp David attending a G8 summit, condemned the attack as a “vile act of murder” and expressed his condolences to the family of the teenager killed in the blast and all those injured.
He pledged the government would fight “all types of crime” and seek to prevent a return to Italy’s violent and “subversive” past, marked by mafia car bombings and politically motivated murders.
Francesca Morvillo Falcone school where the devices went off
The blast went off close to the Francesca Morvillo Falcone school in the southern Italian town of Brindisi – home to the Sacra Corona Unita, who have close links with the Russian and Albanian mafia and are linked to drug and gun running.
The school is named after the wife of anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, who were both killed in a bomb blast on May 23, 1992, which was carried out by the Sicilian mafia.
The mafia theory was also underlined by Mrs Morvillo’s brother Alfredo, a prosecutor in Sicily, who said: “The theory that the mafia is behind this at the moment would at the moment to me seem very credible.
“I’m saying that because of where this happened and the fact that the school was named after my sister Francesca Morvillo and the anniversary is very soon.
“Naturally the investigators and all those that do this as a profession will examine every possible theory without leaving anything excluded.”
The devices, connected to gas canisters and hidden in rucksacks went off about 30 metres from the Brindisi courthouse.
Students arriving for lessons caught the full impact of the blasts, with shrapnel from the canisters piercing the shutters of nearby shops and blowing out windows of apartment buildings overlooking the scene.
TV footage showed scenes of desperation as shoes and rucksacks were scattered over the floor, abandoned by students.
Brindisi’s mayor Cosimo Consales said: ”This is an unprecedented attack by organised crime.
“The name of the school and the planned anti-mafia march is all too much of a coincidence,” he said, adding that just two weeks ago a local anti-extortion racket campaigner had cheated death after a powerful device went off under his car.
Emergency services at the scene of the blast
Local MP Alfredo Mantovano was also at the scene and said: ”There is an anti-mafia meeting taking place at the moment with the prosecutors and forces of law and order.
“This is the first time in Italy that a school has been targeted and this is the most terrible aspect of all this.”
Pope Benedict XVI’s official spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said: “This is a horrible and vile attack, all the more abhorrent because it took place at a school.
“The whole country should react with decision against the temptation of violence and terrorist provocation.”
One eyewitness who works in the court building overlooking the school told Italian media: “I was just opening the window when the blast caught me in full.
“When I looked down I saw all the kids on the floor, they were covered in black and their books were on fire.
“It was an infernal scene. Who could have done something like this? They were just kids.”
The European Caravan for Legality is an anti-mafia protest that left Rome last month and was due to travel across Italy promoting initiatives against organised crime.
Giovanni Falcone and his wife were killed along with their three-strong security escort when the Sicilian mafia detonated a bomb under a motorway as his convoy made its way from Palermo airport to the city centre.
Just two months later his successor Paolo Borsellino was also killed in a car bomb in Palermo as he visited the apartment block where his mother lived.