Police work at the scene of a bomb blast outside a school in Brindisi, Italy.… (Ciro Fusco, European Pressphoto…)
ROME — A bomb exploded at the entrance of a high school in southern Italy named for the wife of a slain anti-Mafia judge, killing a 16-year-old girl and injuring at least four people as students were arriving at school for Saturday classes.
Police were investigating the possibility of organized-crime involvement in the attack in the Adriatic port city of Brindisi, but authorities said it was too early to exclude other possibilities.
They noted that the school is named for Francesca Morvillo, the wife of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone. Both were killed in 1992 in a huge explosion outside the Sicilian city of Palermo. The 20th anniversary of that attack is Wednesday.
In Saturday's attack, at least one and possibly three explosive devices attached to three gas canisters were probably detonated by a timer, according to news reports. They blew up shortly before 8 a.m. in front of the Francesca Laura Morvillo Falcone fashion institute in Brindisi.
Reports initially said that it was almost certainly an organized-crime attack in an area with a heavy presence of the Sacra Corona Unita, a criminal organization in the Puglia region, the heel of the Italian "boot."
But certain anomalies, such as the type of bomb and the choice of a school as a target, were leading authorities to pursue other lines of investigation, reports said.
Italian authorities announced Thursday that they were increasing security for thousands of police stations and offices considered potential targets of attacks triggered by anger over the country's economic crisis. The move came after a senior executive of a nuclear engineering company was shot in the leg May 7 by a man on a scooter in the northern city of Genoa.
Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said on Sky Italia television that it was too early to favor any theory in Saturday's bombing. "The method is not typical of Mafia attacks in the past," she said
Cancellieri called the "very complex" attack "an unprecedented act of cruelty."
A 16-year-old identified as Melissa Bassi died almost immediately after the explosion. A fellow student was in critical but stable condition after surgery. Others injured in the attack were treated for burns.
Nicola Latorre, a senator from the Brindisi area, said on Italian television that "this was a terrorist attack, in Mafia style, for the first time with the intent to kill our young people. It was set to kill the kids."
Authorities said that had the explosion occurred just minutes later, it would have caused many more casualties among the mostly female student body at the school.
The Sacra Corona Unita has had a very strong presence in the area, local commentators said.
"This is pure terrorism," Piero Grasso, the special prosecutor who oversees Italy's anti-Mafia efforts, said at the scene Saturday. "There are now millions of families who will wonder if they can send their children safely to school. This is terrorism."
In Rome, Milan, Palermo and other cities Saturday evening, citizens staged demonstrations of solidarity with the victims and indignation that a school was targeted.
Delaney is a special correspondent.