A former Italian prime minister accuses France of the mysterious Ustica air tragedy without evidence

An aviation tragedy that occurred in June 1980 could now lead to a new episode of diplomatic tensions between Italy and France.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
05 September 2023 Tuesday 10:22
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A former Italian prime minister accuses France of the mysterious Ustica air tragedy without evidence

An aviation tragedy that occurred in June 1980 could now lead to a new episode of diplomatic tensions between Italy and France. Former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato, 85, returned to accuse Paris yesterday of being behind the crash of a plane in 1980 with 81 people, without providing evidence, calling the issue an "act of war." "If it is not an act of war to fire a missile from one plane to another, how would you define it?" He assured a press conference.

Amato, who was president of the Italian Council of Ministers on two occasions, between 1992 and 1993 and between 2000 and 2001, caused a huge stir with an interview published on Saturday in La Repubblica in which he blamed the aviation tragedy on a missile fired by a French fighter that intended to kill the then Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, saying that by mistake it ended up shooting down the Italian civilian plane.

With these accusations, the former prime minister revives one of the great mysteries of Italy. It all happened on June 27, 1980, more than 40 years ago, when a plane with 81 people on board, a Douglas DC-9 of the Italian airline Itavia, crashed in the Mediterranean near the Italian island of Ustica, in the Tyrrhenian sea. The plane, which was on the route between Bologna and Palermo, stopped giving signals with a few seconds to nine at night, and all the passengers and crew members lost their lives, shocking an Italy installed in the Years of Lead . Since then, multiple questions have been raised about the cause of the tragedy, since it fell due to a technical fault, that there was an explosive on board or that it was shot down by a missile. This is the thesis defended by Amato, pointing out that the responsibility lay with the French Air Force, with the complicity of the Americans and "those who participated in the air war" in the Italian skies.

“The plan was to skin Gaddafi, who was flying a MIG from his air force. And the plan was to simulate a NATO exercise, with many planes in action, in the course of which a missile would be fired at the Libyan leader,” he explained. However, he believes that Gaddafi was warned of the danger and did not board the plane, and the French missile ended up hitting and shooting down the Itavia DC-9.

After the commotion, the Italian Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, asked the former Italian president to make the elements available to the Government available to make such a statement. "Amato's are important words that deserve attention," despite responding to "personal deductions," said the leader of the Brothers of Italy, recalling that no document related to this incident is protected by state secrets.

Asked about possible evidence to prove his theory, Amato replied yesterday that he has never said that he was telling the truth about Ustica, but that the most credible hypothesis of all those that have been formulated is that of the French missile, and that if he speaks at this point it's because, given his age, he's come to the conclusion that it's one of the unfulfilled things he can get to complete before he dies. "My goal was to provoke, if possible, a rapprochement with the truth," he said at the correspondents' headquarters in Rome.

The former Italian prime minister reiterated his appeal to the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to investigate the matter and to apologize, if it is shown that his thesis is well founded. “My calling is as a friend. We are fortunate to have the freest Frenchman as president of France," he argued, saying that Macron was a two-year-old boy at the time of the incident, and appealing to the opportunity to give young people a "world in which the truths are they search and do not sweep under the rug.”

French diplomacy has already responded to Amato saying that Paris "has delivered the elements at its disposal every time it has been asked about this tragedy, in particular in the framework of the investigations led by the Italian Justice", adding that "of course ” remain “willing to work with Italy, if requested”. It is not the first time that France has been accused of being behind the Ustica tragedy. In 2008, the former President of the Republic Francesco Cossiga, who was Prime Minister during the incident and died in 2010, assured that the culprit was a French missile aimed at a Libyan military plane. "Other protagonists of that episode could also leave, whoever flew a plane could say: 'I was in command of a plane that was among others around the DC-9 that night," Amato insisted.