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Rome on guard for anti-Semitic attacks

ROME, Nov. 28 (JTA) – Rome authorities have stepped up surveillance at possible targets of anti-Semitic attack following two bombing incidents linked to neo-Nazis.

Security was also increased Sunday at soccer stadiums, where extremist fans often wave banners with anti-Semitic slogans. Players in an important match in Rome wore the slogan “No to Anti-Semitism, Violence and Racism” emblazoned on their uniforms.

Last Tuesday night, a rudimentary bomb damaged the entrance to Rome’s Liberation Museum, which is dedicated to the World War II Resistance.

Three days later, police defused a similar homemade bomb planted at the entrance of a Rome movie theater just around the corner from Parliament, which had presented a special screening of a documentary on Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.

Anonymous callers saying they represent a group called the Anti-Zionist Movement claimed responsibility for both bombs. Police said they had not known of the group before.

No one was injured in either incident, but the two events rang alarm bells among political and Jewish community leaders alike and focused attention on neo-Nazi skinhead and other right-wing extremist groups, including soccer hooligans.

“This does not only concern us Jews, but all civil and democratic forces in the country,” said Amos Luzzatto, president of the Italian Jewish community. He urged that authorities halt play in soccer games where fans are seen displaying racist or anti-Semitic banners.

Politicians from all parts of the political spectrum condemned the attacks and warned of possible further incidents.

Even before police discovered the bomb at the Nuovo Olimpia movie theater, Interior Minister Rosa Russo Jervolino said, “The government does not consider the bomb” at the museum “as an isolated event, but considers it to be part of a neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic strategy.”

The cinema had hosted a gala preview screening Tuesday night of the film “A Specialist – Portrait of a Modern Criminal,” about the 1961 Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, by Israeli director Eyal Sivan. Rome Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and other dignitaries had attended.

Police over the weekend interrogated dozens of youths known to belong to skinhead and other extremist groups, including militant soccer fan clubs.

Maurizio Boccacci, Rome’s most notorious right-wing extremist leader, denied involvement in the bombings but said he supported the actions.

“I am a fascist, racist, anti-Semite,” he told Corriere della Sera newspaper. “I am against immigration. But if I do something, I do it openly. I would have devastated that cinema, I would have occupied it. But bomb it, no. Bombs belong to a sad past.”

Reports said the homemade bombs resembled explosive devices set off in the stands by militant soccer fans during matches.

“The racist tension in the stadiums, as it is tolerated, has created an incubator for the bombs – which some people still prefer to call ‘firecrackers,’ ” said Claudio Fano, former president of the Rome Jewish community. “The soccer world is an accomplice in all this.”

Jewish leaders for years have been trying to get soccer authorities to crack down on racist and anti-Semitic slogans used by militant fans, to little avail.

As in other countries, hard-line fans often use anti-Semitic slogans to direct abuse against rival teams.

In a recent match, for example, fans of Rome’s Lazio team displayed a huge banner directed against a rival team that read “Auschwitz Is Your Homeland; the Ovens Are Your Homes.”

Last Sunday, two days before the bomb attack on the Liberation Museum, police in Rome checking fans entering the stadium before a match between Lazio and its hometown arch-rival Roma confiscated 69 anti-Semitic and other “offensive and vulgar” banners.

A Green Party member of Parliament at the match said that despite the tight police work, he spotted one banner in the stands emblazoned with a swastika and would bring the matter before the Interior Ministry.

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