Up to 200 police officers and former intelligence operatives are being investigated by Italian magistrates on charges of organising an illegal 'parallel' police force to combat terrorism.
The shadowy group appears to have set itself up as a private security firm, offering protection to senior figures, and illicitly using official police resources. Judge Francesco Lalla, Genoa's chief prosecutor, said the self-styled 'Department for Anti-terrorist Strategic Studies,' (Dssa) maintained an arsenal of weaponry, stored by its accused commanders Gaetano Saya and Riccardo Sindaco, both with links with the Italian far right.
The revelations have heightened many Italians' unease about the strategies of the government of Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, against Islamist terrorism. Judicial sources said the Dssa recruited from police, paramilitary carabinieri, finance police and the armed services and presented itself to Italian institutions as well as potential recruits as an elite body specialising in fighting Islamic and Marxist terrorism.
Magistrates focused on the Dssa after it allegedly claimed to have a video of the murder in Iraq of the Italian hostage Fabrizio Quatrocchi and tried to sell the footage. Investigators are trying to determine what official support the organisation may have had.
Il Messaggero quoted an investigator who said it was particularly disturbing that phone intercepts suggested Dssa members had been planning to kidnap Cesare Battisti, a Red Brigades activist living in exile in Paris. "We were seeing the genesis of something similar to the death squads in Argentina," the magistrate is reported to have said.