Brig. Gen. James Lee Dozier, the senior American officer at NATO southern Europe ground forces base in Verona, Italy, was kidnaped at his home yesterday in an operation allegedly carried out by Red Brigades terrorists.
According to American officials here, Dozier, 50, who is deputy chief of staff for logistics and administration at the Verona base in northern Italy, was taken from his home at gunpoint at about 5:30 p.m. local time (11:30 a.m. EST) by four men dressed in plumbers' overalls.
Several hours later an anonymous caller, identifying himself as a member of the Red Brigades, told the Milan bureau of the Italian news service ANSA, "We have kidnaped Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier in Verona, a communique will follow." The caller provided the address of Dozier's home in Verona and spelled his name to add authenticity to the claim.
A spokesman for the NATO command in Verona said that according to a statement to police by Dozier's wife, who was being treated for shock, "four men dressed as plumbers entered their home, hit the general over the head, presumably with a pistol butt, and tied her hands and feet with chains and covered her mouth and eyes with adhesive tape."
The kidnapers turned the apartment inside out, the spokesman added, "looking maybe for arms, maybe for documents. Then they put him in a trunk."
Later, the spokesman said, "Mrs. Dozier started beating against the floor and walls with the chains. She got the attention of her neighbors in the downstairs aparment, and they called the police at 9:10 p.m."
In Washington, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed the kidnaping, and said there was no indication whether Dozier was injured.
According to first reports from American officials here, Dozier and his wife, Judith, were at home when the men arrived claiming they were plumbers. They overpowered the general, bound and gagged his wife and left with the general, reportedly forcing him into a van.
Police set up roadblocks on exits from the city and on major arteries of northern Italy.
Informed of the kidnaping, Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini immediately called in Interior Minister Virgionio Rognoni and Defense Minister Lelio Lagorio.
Officials here said Spadolini also contacted U.S. Ambassador Maxwell Rabb. Two months ago, American intelligence reports of a Libyan threat against Rabb's safety led Italian authorities to expel several Libyans from this country and to step up security precautions.
Red Brigades' propaganda often has included verbal attacks on the United States, but until now Americans have never been chosen as a target of the groups' numerous terrorist attacks.
Today's kidnaping was the first in Europe involving an American military officer. In September, American Gen. Frederick Kroesen was wounded in a terrorist attack in West Germany, and in June 1979 Alexander M. Haig Jr., then-supreme commander of NATO, narrowly escaped injury in Belgium when a bomb exploded just behind his car as he was being driven to work.
Dozier, a West Point graduate and armor specialist with more than 25 years of Army service, fought in Vietnam and had served at the Verona post since June last year.
The Red Brigades, Italy's most-feared leftist extremist group, has used kidnaping frequently, most recently last spring when four Italians -- a leader of the ruling Christian Democratic Party from Naples, two industrial executives and the brother of a repentant terrorist who had cooperated with authorities -- were abducted in four separate operations in different parts of the country.
The politician and one of the executives were released unharmed after weeks of imprisonment, but the other executive and the former terrorist's brother were murdered. During that time, police were unable to find any clues leading to the hideouts in which the four prisoners were held. Several months before that, an Italian magistrate was kidnaped and held for more than a month before being released.
The most notorious political kidnaping by the Red Brigades was the 1978 abduction of former prime minister Aldo Moro, who was captured in a bloody paramilitary operation in which the Christian Democratic politician's five bodyguards were killed.
Moro was held prisoner for 54 days during negotiations, before the Red Brigades murdered him and left his body in a parked car on a street in downtown Rome. Police never located the hideout where he was held prisoner.
In the case of Moro, the Red Brigades seemed intent on keeping the country poised on the edge of tragedy. They asked for the release of several imprisoned terrorists in exchange, a demand the Italian government turned down.
After kidnaping the judge, Giovanni d'Urso, the Red Brigades asked for the closing of a maximum-security prison where suspected terrorists were held, which was in fact done.
Ciro Cirillo, the Christian Democratic politician, is said to have been released after payment of a ransom, but the Brigades' public demands involved housing and unemployment aid to the poor of Naples.
In recent months, the Brigades have released documents promising an active "winter campaign," targeted against the giant Fiat automobile company in Turin.