Italian police said yesterday that they had seized weapons, including an air-to-air missile, in raids sparked by an investigation into far-right extremist groups.
“During the operation, an air-to-air missile in perfect working order was seized,” the police said.
As well as the 800kg Matra missile, the bust in northern Italy uncovered a whole host of sophisticated weapons, including “latest generation” automatic assault rifles and rocket launchers.
Among the weapons uncovered were 26 guns, 20 bayonets, 306 gun parts, including silencers and rifle scopes, and more than 800 bullets of various calibres.
The weapons were primarily from Austria, Germany and the US.
“This is a significant seizure, with few precedents in Italy,” said Turin police commissioner Giuseppe De Matteis.
Police arrested three people, including Fabio Del Bergiolo, 50, a former election candidate for the neo-fascist Forza Nuova party.
Del Bergiolo, who lives in the northern town of Gallarate, near Milan’s Malpensa airport, was described as a failed candidate for the political party in the 2001 general elections.
The 3.54m missile was made in France and Del Bergiolo had been hoping to sell it for €470,000 ($529,000), according to Italian media reports.
The missile was “without explosive charge, but re-armable by people specialised in the field”, police said.
“For now, nothing leads us to suspect” an active plot to use the weapons, said counter-terrorism official Eugenio Spina.
The Super 530 F was a modernisation of the R530 missile that went into service in 1980, and has a range of 25km (15 miles), with an explosive charge of 30kg.
“It is extremely dangerous and risky to turn it into a missile to fire from the ground, unless you have good engineers and equipment,” a missile expert who asked not to be named told AFP.
Similarly, because of its age, it is “extremely unlikely that it can be used, but its use can be changed”, he added.
The raids were the result of a separate police probe into Italian extremists known to have joined pro-Russian rebels in fighting Ukrainian troops.
“The police investigation … came into being because of the activities of some Italian fighters with extremist backgrounds who had taken part in the armed conflict in the Ukrainian region of Donbass,” the police statement said.
More than 10,000 people have been killed since 2014 in fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine.
Messages intercepted by the police led them to investigate Del Bergiolo, who had sent photographs of the missile for sale through the WhatsApp messaging service.
They put him under surveillance before raiding his home and finding neo-Nazi propaganda, Hitler memorabilia, and a stash of weapons including a Scorpion machine gun, 306 firearm parts and 20 bayonets.
The other arrests were a Swiss, 42, and an Italian, 51, accused of holding and marketing the missile, which was found by police at a warehouse near the small Rivanazzano Terme airport in the Pavia province.
The Digos law enforcement agency, which deals largely with terrorism and organised crime, led the operation from Turin with assistance from police in Forli, Milan, Novara, and Varese.
“We have some idea about what the seized equipment could be used for, but will not speculate,” De Matteis told reporters.
The Forza Nuova party released a statement yesterday, distancing itself from Del Bergiolo.
Police have carried out several raids in recent weeks on far-right targets around Turin, with a man arrested earlier this month for advocating fascism and possessing illegal weapons.
While Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was uncharacteristically quiet following the raid, the opposition centre-left Democratic Party (PD) urged the country’s populist government to do more to tackle right-wing extremists.
“The far-right in this country traffics weapons of war, and even missiles. It’s an incredible, very serious event,” said Maurizio Martina, the PD’s former party head.