ITALY: Bomb set off outside school kills girl

[19 May 2012] - A bomb blast outside a school in the south Italian city of Brindisi has killed a teenage girl and injured five other people, at least one seriously.

Students were arriving for Saturday morning lessons when a device planted in a waste bin exploded, city mayor Mimmo Consales told reporters.

No-one said they had planted the device but Mr Consales suggested a Mafia link.

A crowd of stunned local people gathered at the scene of the blast, which has shocked Italy.

The school is named after Judge Francesca Morvillo Falcone, a victim of a notorious Mafia bombing in Sicily nearly 20 years ago.

She was killed along with her husband, anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, on 23 May 1992.

Prime Minister Mario Monti, who is at Camp David attending a G8 summit, said his government was determined to prevent a return to the violence of the past.

He said the bombing was a "tragic" and "criminal" act that was "without precedent".

French President Francois Hollande, also at the summit, expressed his country's "deep solidarity" with Italy in the face of the "odious attack".


'Books on fire'

Pupils of the vocational school were milling around the front of the building when the blast occurred at around 07:45 (05:45 GMT). 

An employee at the prosecutor's office next to the school told La Repubblica daily: "I was opening the window and the blast wave hit me.

"I saw kids on the ground. All blackened. Their books on fire. It was terrifying."

A tearful middle-aged woman, who was still visibly shocked, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "It was an incredibly powerful explosion.

"I saw a girl lying on the ground and another one who got up and started shouting."

The girl killed was named as 16-year-old Melissa Bassi.

A second injured girl, also 16, was initially reported as dead by police sources. However, she is alive though in a "very serious condition", local hospital director Paola Ciannamea said.

The four other victims being treated are all suffering from extensive burns, including one who risks losing her legs and another who has serious injuries to her chest, Italian media say.

Television footage of the scene shows a concrete wall blackened by fire next to the school's entrance gate, while broken glass and other debris litter the pavement.

Valeria Vitale, the school's director, told La Repubblica that staff at the school had been among the first to come to the victims' assistance.

"The students are in shock," she said.


'Absolutely barbarous'

A bomb attack near Brindisi blamed on the Mafia earlier this month narrowly missed killing the head of an anti-racket association, according to AFP. 

Correspondents say the memory of a spate of Mafia bombings against civilians in the early 1990s is still raw in many Italians' minds.

The Sacra Corona Unita Mafia, active in the region around Brindisi, Apulia, is heavily involved in trafficking drugs, arms and people smuggling and human trafficking.

Noting the approaching anniversary of the Falcone attack, Mayor Consales said: "We understand well this symbol and the significance of this event."

Nichi Vendola, governor of Apulia, said after the blast: "To even think about killing children is absolutely barbarous.

"A family sends their child, an adolescent, to school and the child does not come back and another one has a daughter with bloodstains on the school backpack and notebooks.

"Whoever is responsible for this has committed an act that will go down in the history of barbarity. We need to react with severity."

Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri said she was "struck" by the name of the school targeted but warned that investigators had still no grounds for blaming the bomb on organised crime.

"It's not the usual [method] for the Mafia," she told SkyTG24 television, adding there were "numerous hypotheses" as to the motive.

As the investigation continues, all of Italy is demanding answers, the BBC's Alan Johnston reports from Rome.


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