An exceptional 30-year career in the shadowy netherworld of international terrorism ended suddenly last week when Venezuelan authorities arrested 51-year-old Stefano delle Chiaie outside an apartment in Caracas.
The 5-foot-tall delle Chiaie was extradited to Rome on Tuesday. There, he faces major criminal charges in connection with two attempted coups d’etat and the masterminding of the bloodiest of the terrorist acts that have plagued the Italian peninsula over the last 18 years.
Chiaie’s alleged operations include
d a December 1969 bombing at Milan’s
Piazza Fontana that left 16 dead, the murder of a judge in 1976, the August
1980 bombing at Bologna’s central train station in which 85 persons were killed
and attempted fascist takovers [sic] of the Italian government in 1970 and
In an Italy that experienced World War II and Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship, it is [deletion] difficult to comprehend the remarkable survival of a man who not only espoused but attempted to carry out the violent restoration of fascist-style law and order. The answer, it appears, lies in the postwar popularity of the Italian Communist Party and the preoccupation of rightist forces in Italy, including powerful figures in intelligence and law enforcement, with preempting a communist victory.
Because of this preoccupation, delle Chiaie, as charged by several Italian judges, enjoyed the protection of Italian law enforcement authorities. Indeed, an internal document of one Italian intelligence agency, a copy of which was obtained by three British journalists and cited in the 1984 book, “The Nazi Legacy,” identifies delle Chiaie as “an informer of the Rome central police.”
However, by tolerating some of delle Chiaie’s activities in return for whatever undercover work he might provide, the authorities only added fuel to the terrorist fire. For the tactic adopted in the early ‘60s by extremists, including delle Chiaie’s Avanguardia Nazionale, was “the strategy of tension.” A contemporary fascist tract stated:
“Our belief is that the first phase of political activity ought to be to create conditions favoring the installation of chaos in all the regime’s structures … the first move we should make is to destroy the structure of the democratic state under the cover of Communist activities.”
Long trail of terrorist activities
In following this approach, delle Chiaie reportedly began organizing the penetration of leftist activist organizations. The strategy worked to perfection.
In the aftermath of the powerful explosion on Dec. 12, 1969, at the Banca del Agricultura in Milan’s Piazza Fontana, the leader of a group of left-wing anarchists was arrested. Within a week, 150 more anarchists suspected were rounded up. That same week, according to “The Nazi Legacy,” an Italian military intelligence memorandum was circulated internally. It asserted that delle Chiaie was the true mastermind.
The fate of that memo is unclear. What is known is that the Italian judicial system took 13 years to exonerate the anarchists and indict delle Chiaie and is Avanguardia cohorts.
By then, delle Chiaie was long gone. He reportedly managed, in the interim, to organize and take part in the Dec. 7, 1970, midnight occupation of the ministry of interior in Rome – which, for some unknown reason, was called off before dawn – and a similarly abortive coup in 1974.
Although delle Chiaie was never arrested in Italy, he found it propitious to find bases of operation abroad. In the early ‘70s, according to numerous published accounts, he operated both out of Spain, then under the grip of Franco’s dictatorship, and out of Portugal, under the similarly fascist Marcello Caetano. Delle Chiaie, according to Fredric Laurent’s “Orchestre Noir,” collaborated with Spanish secret police in their battle with Basque separatists and with the Portuguese against leftist opponents of the regime. While in Spain, he ingratiated himself with the exiled Argentine dictator Juan Peron and his right-hand man, Jose Lopez Rega.
Caetano was overthrown by the Portuguese military in 1974. The Spanish dictator Franco died in 1975. When democracy returned to Iberia, delle Chiaie fled to South America.
Peron had returned to Argentina to reclaim the presidency in 1973. His eminence gris, the fascist Lopez Rega, became the minister of the interior. While in Spain, he had already assembled his personal death squad, the Argentine Anti-communist Alliance, with delle Chiaie’s assistance. Buenos Aires became delle Chiaie’s new home.
While based in Argentina, according to Stuart Christie’s 1984 delle Chiaie biography, “Portrait of a Black Terrorist,” delle Chiaie frequently slipped over the border to Chile. The dictator, Augusto Pinochet, had joined delle Chiaie’s growing list of patrons. In return, the Italian neofascist orchestrated the attempted assassination of one of Pinochet’s leading critics in exile, former Chilean general Bernardo Leighton.
On the night of Oct. 6, 1975, in Rome, Leighton was shot in the neck. His wife was shot in the spine. The couple, however, survived.
A sojourn in Bolivia
Delle Chiaie maintained his base in Argentina even after Peron’s demise and through the start of the 1976-83 “dirty war” against subversion, for which several Argentine generals are now living out their days behind bars.
Then, in late 1979, the Argentine government reportedly dispatched delle Chiaie to neighboring Bolivia, where he would come under the wings of the resident Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie.
According to Penny Lernoux’s “In Banks we Trust,” Barbie was in charge of a paramilitary death squad, one of whose tasks was to serve as enforcers for the Bolivian cocaine traffickers. The traffickers included Bolivian generals. The same generals preempted the August 1980 Bolivian election with a coup d’etat.
Barbie and delle Chiaie would continue as political and narcotics enforcers until the generals allowed an election in October 1982. Immediately afterward, Barbie was extradited to France, where next month he will finally go on trial for crimes against humanity, allegedly committed while he was Gestapo chief in occupied Lyon.
Delle Chiaie fled Bolivia in the same period, narrowly avoiding arrest by Italian and Bolivian authorities who stormed the cocaine stronghold. The Italians wanted delle Chiaie not only for the 1969 Piazza Fontana bombing, but also for the July 1976 murder in Rome of Judge Vittorio Occorsio – who was seeking to indict him – and for masterminding the August 1980 bombing of the Bologna train station.
He would remain free, his whereabouts unknown until one week ago.
Stefano Delle Chiaie was described recently by Danish journalist Henrik Kruger, an internationally recognized authority on neofascism, this way: He started out, Kruger said, as an ordinary terrorist, but became an intelligence-created monster who was allowed to travel freely over borders and perform his sinister crimes. A murderous tool for the ultra-right and for intelligence forces in Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, and numerous Latin American countries. They all had a part in the monster, and they are all nervous about what he might tell.