One day after rescuing U.S. Brig. Gen. James L. Dozier in a spectacular lightning raid in Padua, Italian police continued their sweep through the northern Veneto region today, discovering at least eight new hide-outs and arresting 23 additional Red Brigades suspects.
As the police moved against suspected terrorists and promised "further developments" in the coming days, Dozier described his 42 days of captivity as "my small sacrifice on behalf of freedom" at a brief press conference in Vicenza. He also thanked Italian authorities for their efforts to resolve his kidnaping case.
"The people of Italy can certainly be proud of the folks that were working on this thing in that apartment house yesterday morning, the general said. "Ladies and gentlemen," he added, "those were true professionals."
At his press conference, in a heavily guarded chapel at the U.S. base in Vicenza, Dozier, in full uniform, freshly shaved and his crew cut newly restored, expressed his gratitude to Italian authorities "for their effort towards a resolution of this particular situation."
"The operation that was carried out yesterday morning was done with speed and precision and--there's another word that we in uniform like to use--and that's professionalism."
Dozier, 50, seemed to show remarkably few signs of his 42-day ordeal. Doctors who examined him at a U.S. military hospital pronounced him fit and said he showed "no real sign of physical stress." After a physical examination, Dozier, his wife, Judith, and daughter, Air Force Lt. Cheryl Dozier, moved into a guest apartment on the base.
Other than his statement of thanks, Dozier answered no questions about his captivity, explaining that the official investigation was still in course.
According to unnamed Italian and American officials quoted by The Associated Press, when Dozier was abducted at his home Dec. 17 the kidnapers ransacked his files and took some personal documents, and these apparently served as the basis of their interrogation of him. These officials said Dozier did not reveal any significant secret information.
The new arrests today and the discovery of hide-outs containing weapons stores and documents about plans to attack other NATO and Italian targets were believed to be based at least in part on information received from the five terrorists who were guarding Dozier when a 10-man commando unit broke down the door of the Padua apartment he was being held in yesterday morning.
"There will be further developments, and we expect them to be fairly big ones," said Gianfranco Corrias, the Padua police chief. He said security experts feel the operation could be a fatal blow for the "Veneto column" of the Red Brigades.
Corrias said the Padua hide-out was located in stages. "First we isolated the town, then the area, then the street and then the apartment," he said, adding that he had given the order to move in yesterday when the gate to the apartment block was left open. "We took them completely by surprise," he said.
Today police also confirmed that those arrested in the raid included the alleged leaders of the Venice column, Antonio Savasta, 27, and his girlfriend Emilia Libera, 21. Savasta and Libera were sentenced yesterday to a 30-year jail term for their role in a 1980 shootout in Sardinia.
The other three were Manuela Frascella, whose father, a lung specialist, had rented the apartment for her; Cesare Leonardo, 22, and Giovanni Ciucci, 32, identified as the man who pointed a pistol at Dozier when police broke into the apartment.
"He was stopped with a karate chop to the forehead," said the Verona police chief, Pasquale Zappone.
Zappone also said there were indications that Dozier's captors had already decided to kill him. He said that in recent days they had stopped taking the precaution of concealing their identities, "and this was a sure sign that his death sentence had already been passed." He said Dozier "certainly would have come to a ugly end" if the search for him had failed.
Describing the search for Dozier, Zappone said police had operated on two different levels. They carried out a "carpet search" with roadblocks, house-to-house searches, and identity checks of passengers at railway stations. At the same time, they made a careful study of the terrorists' written communiques. "Eventually, they made a false move," he said.
Zappone said police had located the hide-out 48 hours before sending the commando unit in. "We needed the time to study the exact layout of the apartment building and the surrounding area," he explained.
Meanwhile, there were conflicting reports about the tip that reportedly led police to the Padua apartment. Police sources in Verona hinted that the tip had come from a young drug addict with terrorist ties following a massive narcotics raid last week in which 40 persons were arrested.
Other investigators in Rome suggested that yesterday's raid was the culmination of a series of operations in the past months, with arrests of a dozen Red Brigades members in Rome leading to information about the rival Red Brigades group operating in the Veneto region.
But Italian, U.S. and NATO sources confirmed that the rescue operation and other related police operations were entirely the work of the Italian police.
"This was all the Italians' show," said a high-ranking U.S. Embassy official who said he "could not be more categorical about that." The official said that the Italians had not even needed the help the Americans had offered and added, "This was really nothing but good, solid and sustained police work." He said "thousands of people were involved" in the investigation.
A high-ranking Verona investigator said that although the police had no map of the apartment, talks with neighbors and surveillance of the building had given them a good idea about what to expect.
Asked if the five terrorists had sufficient experience to extract secrets from Dozier, the official said he thought not and said he had heard Dozier had special interrogation training in Vietnam.
Although yesterday's raid represented the first time that Italian police have located and released a political kidnaping victim of the Red Brigades, police here have discovered dozens of terrorist hide-outs and arrested hundreds of suspects in the past 10 years. Close to 50 convicted or charged leftist terrorists are in Italian jails, and when 39-year-old Giovanni Senzani was arrested in Rome earlier this month, he was only the latest of the Red Brigades' top leaders to end up behind bars.
Most analysts here are convinced that if terrorism continues to exist here, it will be largely because there is a pool of disaffected youths for the subversive bands to draw upon.
For this reason, Italian officials have been careful to warn that despite their current success, the terrorist threat has not been wiped out. "Let's not kid ourselves. Terrorism is not yet over," the Verona official said.
"We must not let ourselves be lulled into a false sense of security," said an Interior Ministry official in Rome, and an American official said it was quite possible that other Americans could be chosen as future Red Brigades targets.
Nevertheless, terrorism analysts see reason to be optimistic following their breakthrough. They believe that the latest Red Brigades generation is less well-trained and probably less committed. This means that they are not as skilled as their predecessors at covering their tracks and that when captured, some, at least, are more likely to talk.