BRINDISI, Italy (Reuters) - A 16-year-old girl was killed in southern Italy by a bomb that exploded in front of her school before classes on Saturday in an unprecedented attack that wounded 10 others, one seriously.
Officials initially suggested a local mafia group was the main suspect, but investigators later said the rudimentary nature of the bomb and the targeting of an all-girls secondary school did not point toward organized crime. There was no claim of responsibility.
The explosion, near the entrance of a school named after the wife of murdered anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, happened as girls were arriving to start lessons, which in Italy also take place on Saturdays.
Authorities said at least two gas canisters appeared to have been placed in or near rubbish containers at the school, which local media said was located near the main court in Brindisi, a port city on the “heel” of the Italian peninsula.
Melissa Bassi was the name of the brown-haired, brown-eyed student who died in the blast.
One girl was in very serious condition after surgery to her abdomen and was transferred to a hospital in nearby Lecce, while two other girls also suffered injuries serious enough to require surgery, Brindisi’s Perrino hospital said in a bulletin.
A total of five remained in hospital, while five others who suffered minor injuries were sent home.
“Whoever did this aimed to kill,” Mimmo Consales, the mayor of Brindisi, told SkyTG24 television.
Consales noted earlier the incident occurred just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the murder of Falcone and his wife, Francesca Morvillo, in a bomb explosion in Sicily on May 23, 1992. An anti-Mafia march had been planned in Brindisi later in the day.
“You can understand the symbolism of this and what it all signifies,” he said.
After a meeting of investigators, the region’s top anti-mafia magistrate Cataldo Motta told reporters “coincidences may only be coincidences... It may not be an organized crime group.”
Consales, who had earlier put the blame on the local mafia known as the United Sacred Crown, later said it looked more like the act of a “crazy man”.
The homemade bomb, detonated with a timer, did not match past mafia-related blasts, where high explosives were set off by remote control. The attack on school children also did not fit in with the mafia’s usual tactics, which were focused on fostering local support not undermining it, Consales said.
Twenty years ago the Sicilian Mafia planted bombs in Milan, Florence and Rome, killing 10 people, in response to a crackdown on organized crime that had been spearheaded by Falcone and his fellow magistrate Paolo Borsellino, who was also assassinated in 1992.
Television shots of the scene in Brindisi showed a cement wall blackened by fire next to the school’s entrance gate.
Shattered glass, chunks of plastic and shards of metal covered the pavement on a sunny spring day.
Schools in the region were immediately closed, and a rally to express disgust for the attack began at 1600 GMT in the city’s packed main square.
The anti-mafia protesters cancelled their own march and agreed to join in the larger one sponsored by local officials. Marches to express solidarity after the bombing were announced in Milan, Rome and other cities.
Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said organized crime’s involvement could not be ruled out, because of the link to Falcone’s wife, but added there was no clear evidence pointing that way.
“I prefer to be prudent,” she told SkyTG24.
Cancellieri announced plans several days ago to step up security around sensitive targets including official buildings after a series of threats against tax officials.
Italy’s main tax collection agency, Equitalia, has been attacked with a series of small bombs as public anger mounts over the high taxes imposed to shore up public finances and combat the economic crisis.
The head of Ansaldo Nucleare, a nuclear engineering company owned by the defense technology group Finmeccanica, was shot in the leg in an attack claimed by an anarchist group, adding to concerns that extremist groups may try to exploit the public anger.
Prime Minister Mario Monti, who is at Camp David attending a Group of Eight summit, said his government was determined to prevent a return to the political violence of the past.
Reporting by James Mackenzie and Daniele Mari in Rome, Emilio Parodi in Milan, and Daniel Flynn in Paris. Writing by Steve Scherer.; Editing by Andrew Heavens