Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Aldo Moro was kidnapped and murdered by Italian terrorists from the Red Brigades, a left-wing terrorist group in Italy in the 1970’s. Although several terrorists were convicted for the murder of the former Italian prime minister, many questions about the motives of Italy’s government officials and the integrity of their efforts to find Moro alive remained unanswered.

Summary of Event

On March 16, 1978, former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro and his five-man security team, traveling in two cars, were en route to the Italian parliament building in Rome on a routine workday. At Moro’s request, the small caravan had made an apparently unscheduled stop at a church on Via Fani in a well-to-do residential neighborhood. Moments later, the lead car suddenly halted in an unsuccessful effort to avoid hitting the car ahead. Behind the lead car, Moro’s car stopped also. As gunshots sounded, bullets from unknown assailants struck bodyguards in both cars. All five men died as they attempted to protect Moro from the flying bullets. Bystanders observed a badly bruised and shaken Aldo Moro as he was quickly loaded into another car by the assailants, never to be seen alive again. Fifty-five days later, on May 9, 1978, Moro’s bullet-riddled body was discovered in the trunk of a Renault parked on Via Caetani in Rome. Murders;Aldo Moro[Moro] Terrorist acts Kidnappings;Aldo Moro[Moro] [kw]Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister (Mar. 16-May 9, 1978) [kw]Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister, Terrorists (Mar. 16-May 9, 1978) [kw]Murder Former Italian Prime Minister, Terrorists Kidnap and (Mar. 16-May 9, 1978) [kw]Italian Prime Minister, Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former (Mar. 16-May 9, 1978) [kw]Prime Minister, Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian (Mar. 16-May 9, 1978) Murders;Aldo Moro[Moro] Terrorist acts Kidnappings;Aldo Moro[Moro] [g]Europe;Mar. 16-May 9, 1978: Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister[03200] [g]Italy;Mar. 16-May 9, 1978: Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister[03200] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 16-May 9, 1978: Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister[03200] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;Mar. 16-May 9, 1978: Terrorists Kidnap and Murder Former Italian Prime Minister[03200] Moro, Aldo Maccari, Germano

Born on September 23, 1916, into a well-educated, well-to-do family in Maglie, Lecce, Italy, Aldo Moro experienced a sheltered childhood and grew to be a rather handsome young man with a studious and religious bent. After moving to Bari, Italy, with his family in 1934, Moro attended the University of Bari. While at the university, he served as leader of the Italian Catholic University Federation from 1939 to 1942.

Moro lived at a time when Italy was zealously Fascist. The divergence between Catholicism and Fascism provoked serious thought on the part of the devoutly Catholic Moro. His aversion to Communism, however, bothered him more. He settled on an anti-Communist position that aligned him with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, Benito Moro made his peace with the differences between Fascist thought and Catholic tenets, and for a few years felt that the two systems of thought could coexist. Moro preferred this uneasy alliance to Communism. He maintained this political position until the collapse of Mussolini’s Fascist regime in 1943, when, finally convinced that Fascism was decadent, he urged Catholics to step forward and help rebuild the faltering Italian government. From that time, Moro assumed an active role in politics, first on the local level and then in the upper tiers of government.

After graduation from the University of Bari in 1942, Moro taught law there as an untenured professor. He wrote for Catholic publications and edited Studium, a periodical of progressive Catholic thought, thus establishing his reputation as a Catholic intellectual long before he became a power in the political arena. From his editorial position at the helm of Studium, Moro called Italians to positions of moderation; he exhorted them to exhibit kindness and charity. His widely published political stance began to catch the attention of politicians on the national level, especially that of members of the Christian Democratic Party.

In 1959, the forty-three-year-old Moro became the Christian Democrats’ party secretary. From his party platform, Moro preached Italy’s need for a liaison between Socialists and Christian Democrats. Moro remained actively associated with the Christian Democratic Party, becoming its president again in 1976. As party president, having moderated his political views, Moro concentrated on an “opening to the left,” in order to include the Communist Party in the Christian Democratic government’s official parliamentary majority. As a lawyer, educator, author, and politician, Moro became known as the “Great Compromiser” because of his efforts to unify Italy.

A Marxist-Leninist rebel group called Brigate Rosse, or Red Brigades, Red Brigades emerged at the forefront of the renegade communist element among the Italian people and became a force in Italian politics. Originating in the late 1960’s as part of the university ferment in northern Italy and the militant strikes of young factory workers, the Red Brigades aimed to destroy the democratic political base of the Italian government, ostensibly to eliminate the corruption of capitalism. This purpose set them squarely in opposition to the Christian Democratic Party, Christian Democratic Party (Italy) headed by Prime Minister Aldo Moro. At the pinnacle of his intellectual and political prowess and at the height of his popularity with the Italian people, Moro worked ceaselessly to hammer out a compromise position that would allow all legitimate political forces, including Communism, a fair share in Italy’s government.

On March 16, 1978, members of the Red Brigades captured Moro. This terrorist act was intended to cause the collapse of the Christian Democratic Party, but this expected collapse did not occur.

Immediately upon claiming responsibility for the kidnapping, spokesmen for the Red Brigades demanded a ransom for the safe return of Moro—they offered to exchange Moro for thirteen imprisoned terrorists. The offer was dismissed by the Italian government, which had recently settled on a hard-line policy called fermezza (firmness): no negotiations with terrorists. From his place of incarceration in the “People’s Prison,” later learned to be on Via Montalcini in Rome, Moro wrote letters to Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti Andreotti, Giulio and to other officials, encouraging negotiations and prisoner exchange. His letters, probably dictated by members of the Red Brigades, described the political calamity that would be caused by the Christian Democrats’ failure to rescue him. Most investigators agree that Moro’s written pleas, dramatically departing from his long-held views, were produced under torture and possibly the influence of drugs. For reasons never made clear, the Red Brigades ceased communications after fifty-five days and executed their captive.


Four trials and two parliamentary investigations proved Moro’s murderers to be members of the Red Brigades. The motivation of the crime was the terrorists’ desire to set off a Marxist-Leninist revolution, which they hoped would trigger the collapse of the Christian Democrat Italian government.

Five years later, in 1983, three Brigades guerrillas, proved to have participated in Moro’s incarceration and murder, were tried and sentenced to life imprisonment. A fourth suspect, also a Red Brigades member, was not apprehended until 1993. This suspect, Germano Maccari, was convicted of actually killing Moro. The trial court rejected Maccari’s defense that, although he was present at the execution, another guerrilla had fired the gun that killed Moro. According to Italian legal custom, Maccari was released from jail in late 1996 pending his appeal.

Despite the conviction of several terrorists, many questions about the motives of Italy’s government officials and the integrity of their efforts to find Moro alive remained unanswered. The possibility of conspiracy remained unresolved. A large portion of the Italian populace, headed by Moro’s wife and children, believed that the Italian government was guilty of Moro’s murder because it refused to meet ransom demands. Appeals from high-ranking Catholic intellectuals, who argued that life is sacred and should not be sacrificed to reasons of state, failed to sway the Italian government’s position of no negotiation with terrorists. On the international level, Kurt Waldheim, Waldheim, Kurt then secretary-general of the United Nations, pleaded personally with the Red Brigades to release the former Italian prime minister. Waldheim’s appeal was widely criticized because it seemed to raise the terrorist group to the status of a recognized power.

On the other hand, part of the populace felt that Italian democracy, defective as it might have been, was worth defending, even at the cost of the life of its former head of state. Members of other major political groups argued that if negotiations were entered into, and prisoner exchanges made, Italy’s law enforcement and police agencies could no longer operate effectively.

In the last decade of the twentieth century, Moro’s kidnapping and murder remained unresolved in Italy’s turbulent and unwieldy legal system. Murders;Aldo Moro[Moro] Terrorist acts Kidnappings;Aldo Moro[Moro]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Drake, Richard. The Aldo Moro Murder Case. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996. Written by a well-regarded specialist in Italian politics, this book probably contains the greatest amount of specific information published on the murder of Aldo Moro through 1995.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Revolutionary Mystique and Terrorism in Contemporary Italy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. Pages 46-54 contain a concise description of the turmoil of Italian politics during the period in which Moro was kidnapped and murdered.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Giorgio. Memoirs of an Italian Terrorist. Translated by Antony Shugaar. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2003. A fascinating look at terrorism from the perspective of a terrorist. “Giorgio” offers firsthand information about the underground life of the Red Brigades.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Katz, Robert. Days of Wrath: The Ordeal of Aldo Moro—The Kidnapping, the Execution, the Aftermath. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980. Excerpts from this American author’s book were cited by an attorney who cross-examined Giulio Andreotti, a former prime minister and a key witness in the trial that attempted to sort out the truths in the Moro slaying.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wagner-Pacifici, Robin Erica. The Moro Morality Play: Terrorism as Social Drama. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986. Analyzes the event through the lenses of sociology, anthropology, and literary criticism. Deals with the influence of the Catholic Church on the trial of Aldo Moro’s suspected murderers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Negotiation in the Aldo Moro Affair: The Suppressed Alternative in a Case of Symbolic Politics.” Politics and Society 12, no. 4 (1983): 487-517. This article provides background for the position taken by the Italian government regarding negotiations in terrorist situations.

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Categories: History