• U.S.

Italy: Looking for General Dozier

3 minute read
TIME

Many tips but few clues in the hunt for a kidnaped American

At least 1,200 carabinieri established roadblocks in the region around Verona. Hundreds of others fanned out through the Northern Italian cities of Padua, Bolzano and Mestre, looking for clues and searching abandoned houses. Meanwhile, six antiterrorist experts from the U.S. Defense Department rushed to the scene. Yet by week’s end the biggest manhunt since the 1978 assassination of former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro had come up empty. There was still no hint of the whereabouts of Brigadier General James Dozier, 50, the U.S. Army officer held by Italy’s terrorist Red Brigades.

Nor had the terrorists made it clear what they hoped to gain by kidnaping the highest-ranking American official at the Verona headquarters of NATO’S Southern Europe land forces. In the past, the Red Brigades’ targets have always been Italians. The only apparently authentic message from the terrorist group was a note labeled “Communique No. 1,” found in a downtown Rome trash can after police were directed there by an anonymous phone call. The message made no ransom demands but merely stated that on Dec. 17 an “armed nucleus” of Red Brigades “had captured and placed in a people’s prison the Yankee pig of the American occupying forces.” The six-page typed text also solicited international support for West Germany’s terrorist Red Army Faction, the Irish Republican Army and Spain’s violently separatist Basque ETA.

At midweek Italian police arrested Pasqua Aurora Belli, 34, a former schoolteacher, and Flavio Amico, 26, a printer, as suspects in the Dozier kidnaping, but their exact role in the crime was not clear. Meanwhile, police were kept busy with a number of spurious tips, including a telephone message to the Beirut office of the Italian news agency ANSA. The caller, speaking in Arabic, claimed that Dozier had been executed and that his body could be found in a small but unnamed Italian village. Police found nothing, and the message was considered to be a hoax.

U.S. and Italian officials last week agreed that neither country would negotiate with the terrorists. At the same time, NATO headquarters in Brussels issued a statement saying that the Red Brigades had made a serious error if they expected to extract military secrets from Dozier. The general was described as being a specialist only in logistics and support activity, not in defense plans for the alliance.

That is surely not why Dozier was abducted. One theory is that the Red Brigades, having failed to throw Italy into chaos with the assassination of Moro and other prominent Italians, were desperate to regain their credibility. “The society did not collapse,” says Bertram Brown, a terrorism consultant for California’s Rand Corp. “Thus they had to leap the firebreak to internationalism by kidnaping an American.” Adds Franco Ferracuti, a Rome University professor of criminology: “The Red Brigades want to embarrass the U.S., to undermine NATO and, not incidentally, to reestablish themselves as a force to be reckoned with.”

Hoping to give the press-conscious Red Brigades as little public attention as possible, the Italian government imposed a news blackout on developments in the search. One veteran of the U.S.-Iranian hostage negotiations thinks all that may be to the good. Says former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: “The kidnaping of General Dozier is a tragic and terrible event. But I would hope that we don’t see a repeat of such things as a nightly television tally of what day of captivity it is.”

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com