ROME (Mar. 20)
Beefed-up security measures at Rome’s Leonardo da, Vinci International Airport apparently have succeeded in foiling a terrorist attempt for the second time in four months. Police yesterday found four briefcases, each containing submachine guns, ammunition, a grenade and a smoke bomb, during a routine search of the transit lounge. In one of the briefcases was a bunch of newspaper clippings referring to Israeli actions against Palestinian terrorist bases. References to last month’s raid in northern Lebanon were underlined in red.
Police have advanced two theories. One is that the cases were taken to the airport for pickup by a terrorist gang that never arrived. The other is that the gang itself abandoned the weapons in view of heavy security measures at the airport. Whoever brought the cases, a spokesman said, evidently came from another airport with less stringent security, or somehow managed to avoid control measures at the ticket counters. The first suitcase of arms was spotted by a plainclothesman at Gate 14 and its weight immediately aroused his suspicions. An intensive search then turned up the other briefcases at Gates 7 and 8.
For several months, transit passengers as well as departing passengers have had to go through metal detectors and other controls before boarding aircraft. Leonardo da Vinci Airport is a major transfer point for flights to and from the Middle East, and several acts of air terrorism have originated here. The latest discovery was almost identical to one last Nov., when police found four briefcases–also in the transit lounge–each containing a Sten gun with 16 clips, eight grenades and four incendiary bombs.
The weapons held by police today are Sterling submachine guns, each with four clips of 9mm bullets, 48 rounds to a clip. Serial numbers have been brazed off. The guns have folding stocks and were neatly taped into the identical briefcases. Police said they were all in perfect working order.
The Lod Airport massacre in Tel Aviv last May originated in Rome, where the three Japanese terrorists boarded an Air France flight. Later last year two Arabs allegedly gave to two English girls who boarded in Rome a booby-trapped record player. Although the booby trap exploded, it failed to pierce the aircraft’s specially-reinforced baggage compartment, and the plane was able to make it back to Rome without casualties.
The two Arabs recently were released from custody while awaiting trial and slipped out of the country to Italy’s tacit relief and Israel’s indignation. In both the Lod massacre and the booby-trap cases, Israel assailed Rome airport authorities for alleged lax security.