Italy relives militancy fears with nuclear boss shooting

A gunman shot and wounded the head of an Italian nuclear energy company on Monday in an incident reminiscent of militant attacks in the 1970s, with police saying anarchists could be responsible.

Roberto Adinolfi, a 53-year-old nuclear engineer, was followed by the gunman and shot in the ankle as he left his home in Genoa in northwest Italy.

The gunman then escaped on a motorbike with a second man waiting nearby. Police said he used a Tokarev handgun -- a brand used by the Soviet Red Army.

Adinolfi, the head of Ansaldo Nucleare, part of industrial giant Finmeccanica, was rushed to hospital but his life is not in danger.

"This is a serious concern," Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri told reporters, adding that: "A link to his personal life is excluded."

Security sources said the attack was similar to one of the first shootings by the far-left Red Brigades militant group, also against Ansaldo.

"Today it's as if they wanted to say: 'Let's start like we did 40 years ago,'" a security source was quoted by Italian news agency ANSA as saying.

The source said there was "major concern" that the shooting could be a signal for sleeper cells to carry out more attacks or spark copycat shootings.

A total of four Ansaldo managers were victims of attacks by the Red Brigades in Genoa in the 1970s including one who was snatched from the street and released a few hours later and three who were shot and wounded in the street.

Investigators were quoted by Italian media as saying they were looking into possible links with the anarchist movement which is particularly strong in Genoa after recent calls by some anarchists for moves towards "armed action."

Kneecapping was widely used by both far-right and far-left political militants during Italy's "Years of Lead" when leading industrialists, politicians and trade unionists seen as making compromises became targets.

"One of the versions we are working on is a terrorist one but we are also looking into other possible versions. For the moment there has been no claim of responsibility," Genoa prosecutor Michele Di Lecce told reporters.

Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the centre-left Democratic Party, said the attack was "a worrying sign of growing tensions and violence."

"Light should be shed on this incident and democracy should be defended," Bersani said, adding that Italy "has already paid a heavy price in blood."

Ansaldo Nucleare builds third-generation nuclear reactors and has recently won contracts in China, Romania and Slovakia. Adinolfi is a proponent of nuclear power and research on nuclear waste disposal, including in Italy.

Nuclear power was outlawed in Italy in a referendum in 1987 following the Chernobyl disaster and attempts by the last government of Silvio Berlusconi to revive the sector were voted down in another referendum last year.

Finmeccanica chief executive Giuseppe Orsi said that if the attack was indeed political this would be "an alarm bell not to be understimated."

He warned of "dangers of social destabilisation linked to the current economic difficulties and the risk of manipulation for ideological ends.

"An attack against the leadership of a highly technological company... is an insidious rejection of the need for modernisation," he said.

Finmeccanica, he added, was key to "Italy's residual hopes of playing a primary role on global markets in the strategic hi-tech sector."

The shooting was condemned across Italy's political spectrum.

Antonio Di Pietro of the Italy of Values party, said: "Any terrorist or violent act to be criminal and an enemy of democracy and of workers."

Fabrizio Cicchitto, a senior lawmaker from Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom party, said the shooting was "a very grave signal".

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