Two gun outrages, differently reported, both raising questions and echoes of the past
TWO shooting outrages on the same day shocked two European cities this week. In the Belgian city of Liege, at least four people were killed in a gun and grenade attack at the Christmas market, and more than 123 people left wounded, some seriously.
In Florence's central squares a gunman killed two street vendors, both Senegalese, and wounded several others.
In both cases the killers appeared to have no rational motive, just opening fire on innocent people going about their ordinary lives. In both cases, the murderers were already known to the police, and each of them finished off by turning their guns on themselves, unlike the Norwegian killer Breivik who has lived to appear in court but whom doctors have declared insane.
Though neither outrage was on the scale of the massacre in Norway, both roused horor and anger, and both were rightly reported, but not to the same extent, at least in the UK. I saw the Liege shooting covered on TV, but not the attack in Florence. A report for the Institute of Race Relations wonders whether the difference in casualties in the two cities was big enough to justify their different coverage.
"The reporting was most obvious if you compare the BBC World Service's coverage between December 13 and 14 with that of BBC Radio 4. The World Service covered both incidents, while Radio 4 in its bulletins kept completely silent about Florence. In UK papers, too, the Liège story was front page news with the Florence incident, if covered at all, tacked on as an appendage. Was the reason that the victims in Florence were all Senegalese street vendors and violence against those without papers has become such an everyday feature of Italian life that it is not considered newsworthy?"
In both cases there are questions to be asked about how the killers were loose on the streets with firearms. Liege is, it's true, not only an industrial city but one historically associated with weaponry, from the Middle Ages through to the NATO-issue FN FAL automatic rifle produced at nearby Herstal.
All the same it is worrying that Nordine Amrani, a man who, according the BBC, was already "known to Belgian police as a gun enthusiast"(sic) was able to leave home in Liege that morning with an FAL assault rifle, hand grenades and a revolver, just off you might say for a day's shooting.
Amrani received a five-year prison sentence in 2008 for possessing a large arsenal and growing cannabis. However, a court of appeal acquitted him of the gun conviction a year later on the grounds that he had had the necessary permissions to keep them, his lawyer Jean-Francois Dister told La Libre Belgique newspaper.
When he was paroled in 2010, his guns were not returned because of his drug-dealing conviction but otherwise he was under no special gun restrictions, Mr Dister explained.
According to Liege public prosecutor Daniele Reynders, the paroled man showed no sign of mental instability.
At the time of the massacre, the 32 year old Ixelles-born man, a welder by trade, had been due to attend a police station for questioning about a vice charge. He had appeared in courts several times in his life and had a previous vice conviction from 2003. Apparently he felt the police were picking on him.
"Amrani made silencers himself," its article notes."At the time, Amrani refused to say where the weapons had come from and where they were destined." He was acquitted of gun possession charges due to "grey areas" left by a change in the law, the paper says.'
Amrani opened fire in a square not far from the police station where he had been due to report on charges relating to a party in November and a woman's disappearence. He killed himself rather than face custody. After searching addresses associated with Amrani, and finding the body of a murdered woman, prosecutors said they had not found any message from the gunman. The woman, who had been shot through the head, was found in the same warehouse where Amrani cultivated cannabis in 2008, prosecutors confirmed.
If the Belgian killer felt driven beyond reason, or was a petty criminal who had become mixed up with something bigger than he understood, there is less doubt about the motivation of the gunman in Florence. Like Ander Breivik, the perpetrator of the Oslo massacre, Gianluca Casseri was inspired by the racist politics of the far Right. As the IRR report comments, the similarity with the Breivik case, even though on a much smaller scale, make it more remarkable that the Florence shootings did not rate more media attention.
Casseri was a member of CasaPound, a fascist group which takes its name from the American poet Ezra Pound, who moved to Italy and became an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler. A contributer before the War to Oswald Mosley's fascist paper Action, Pound was charged with treason for his wartime broadcasts for the Axis, but a diagnosis of insanity saved him from execution. As much as his poetic standing, or even his links to Mussolini, what may commend Pound to current day fascists is his early obsession with "usury" as the culprit for war and crisis, and his admiration (some say later repudiated) for the classic conspiracy work The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Casseri himself was the author of fantasy novels including The Key of Chaos about a wizard, a mathematician and an alchemist, which enjoyed some popularity. He also wrote an academic paper about Dracula folklore and was the editor of a niche magazine about fantasy and horror fiction and comics. CasaPound - known in Italian anti-racist circles for its attacks on Left targets - denies being extremist, though its vice president Simone de Stefano while acknowledging that Mussolini's racial laws were a mistake, calls his 'brand of fascism' to be the group's 'point of reference, a vision of the state and the economy and the concept of sacrifice'. CasaPound has also sponsored rock concerts at which supporters whip themselves with belts because, according to them, it is 'a way to risk pain, to confront yourself in ways society does not allow'.
Africans in Italy had no difficulty recognising what happened in Florence as a racist attack. About 300 people, many of them also street vendors, gathered in an impromptu protest at the killings, demanding to see Casseri's corpse. 'Don't tell us he was a madman', one told the Guardian, 'because if he was he would have killed whites as well as blacks'.
In both Italy and Belgium there are echoes from the past in these two attacks. Before they had the immigrants to target, Italy's modern day fascists made do with atrocities against their fellow-countrymen, such as the Milan bank and Bologna railway station bombings (August 1980). These actions were also part of a "strategy of tension" promoted by America's CIA and linked with elements in both Italy's own "secret state" and the so-called Gladio stay-behind network set up after the war supposedly to resist Soviet takeover. This was turned against the native Italian communists and left, both by 'false-flag' terrorism for which the Left was meant to take the blame, and creating a general mood of fear from which it was hoped a right-wing, even military government would benefit.
In Belgium a series of violent crimes between 1982 and 1985, culminating in another shopping centre shooting, in Brabant, were carried out by a gang later linked with supposed "rogue" policemen and the gendarmerie, as well as a shadowy fascist oufit called Westland New Post. There too the suspicion was raised of Gladio involvment and the aim of terrorising people into accepting a right-wing regime that promised "order".
References in A tale of two cities, by IRR European News Team
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