ROME — On a soft spring afternoon in the provincial town of Forli, the postmen rang once. A relaxed Roberto Ruffilli, his tie loose, turned down the classical music he loved and opened the door. The postmen first proffered a neatly wrapped package, then showed a 7.65-millimeter pistol.
They backed Ruffilli into the living room, forced him onto a sofa and shot him three times. They left in a stolen van altered to look like a post office truck. They took with them the package, stained with Ruffilli's blood. Inside was an almanac, the sort of thing an intellectual turned politician might enjoy thumbing through on a quiet country weekend.
Italian police said Tuesday that the killers of the history professor who had become a key government policy-maker were members of the bloodiest splinter group of the Red Brigades terrorists, whose violence has claimed more than 400 lives in Italy over the last two decades.
Arrest warrants are out for Gregorio Scarfo, whose guerrilla nom de guerre is Samuel, and Giovanni Alimonti, a former telephone operator in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. Police say the two are leaders of the Rome cell of a zealots' group called the Fighting Communist Party. Eight other terrorists are thought to have helped stage the assassination, and police have identified most of them as well.
Anti-terrorist police believe that Ruffilli, a constitutional expert, was targeted as long as two months ago by killers from one of two remaining factions of the Red Brigades, which convulsed Italy throughout the 1970s. After 1,427 arrests of left-wing terrorists over the years, police believe that about 120 of them remain at large in Italy. Another 180 live in Paris.
Dormant but Not Dead
The terrorists seek to destabilize the state and overthrow Italy's democratic system, but their size and striking power have waned since their peak in 1980, when they claimed 138 lives. In retrospect, terrorism specialists say, the Red Brigades' kidnaping and murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro in 1978 was the beginning of the end for the movement.
Although terrorism is remote from the everyday concerns of Italians, police regularly warn that the Red Brigades, although dormant, are not dead. Their present strategy appears to be to mount one spectacular a year.
"They themselves define it as a stage of strategic withdrawal," investigating magistrate Rosario Priore said. "Perhaps they can do no more on a military scale."
To kill Ruffilli--who, unlike other officials more in the public eye, had no protection--the terrorists stole a van in Rome and apparently followed him to his hometown near Bologna, where he customarily spent quiet weekends. Within hours of the attack, the police had recovered the van, the blood-stained book envelope, fingerprints, cigarette butts and sufficient testimony from eyewitnesses to assemble composite drawings that led to the arrest warrants.
Outrage over the murder of Ruffilli, 51, a Christian Democratic senator and close adviser to Prime Minister Ciriaco De Mita, has united Italy more solidly than De Mita could during a painstaking month in which he reassembled a five-party coalition that takes power this week.
Ruffilli's state funeral Monday, televised nationwide, attracted leaders of government, industry and the church and politicians of every stripe, including those of the Italian Communist Party, a powerful and respectable cog of the political Establishment.
If the murder was a calculated blow against the Italian state, the funeral was the response of a democracy sure of its roots.
"We will continue along the path of the most intransigent defense of liberty and justice," De Mita said in a funeral eulogy that he was to echo Tuesday in his inaugural address to Parliament.
Calling for a firm but measured response to renewed terror, Cardinal Giacomo Biffi of Bologna, who officiated at the Mass, denounced "the latest manifestation of a culture of arrogance and death."
Police say that Scarfo and Alimonti have killed before. They are wanted for the murder of two policemen in an armored car robbery in Rome that netted nearly $1 million in February, 1987.
The same postmen ploy was used in January, 1982, when terrorists tried and failed to kill an anti-terrorist policeman. He answered the postmen's ring with a pistol in his hand. Alimonti was one of the postmen who escaped then, police say.