A former Italian premier has claimed that a French air force missile accidentally destroyed a passenger aircraft over the Mediterranean Sea in 1980 while attempting to assassinate Libya’s then-leader Muammar al-Gaddafi.
During an interview with the Rome daily ‘Repubblica’ published on September 2, former Italian Prime Minister Giuliano Amato alleged that Itavia Flight 870, traveling from Bologna to Palermo, was accidentally brought down by a French missile.
The missile attack, originally intended to target a Libyan military jet, ultimately resulted in a tragic air crash in the Mediterranean that claimed the lives of all 81 passengers on board the civilian aircraft.
Former two-time Premier Amato called on French President Emmanuel Macron to either refute or confirm his assertion about the cause of the June 27, 1980, crash while urging Macron to stop “hiding the truth.”
While admitting the absence of concrete evidence, Amato also argued that Italy alerted Gaddafi. As a result, the Libyan leader, returning to Tripoli from a meeting in Yugoslavia, chose not to board the Libyan military aircraft.
Amato suggested that the missile was allegedly fired from a French fighter jet that possibly took off from an aircraft carrier on the southern coast of Corsica.
“A plan had been launched to hit the plane on which Gaddafi was flying,” Amato said. “But the Libyan leader escaped the trap because he was warned by [former Italian prime minister Bettino] Craxi. Now the Elysée can wash away the shame that weighs on Paris.”
He emphasized that four decades have passed, yet the innocent victims of Ustica still await justice. “Why continue to hide the truth? The time has come to shed light on a terrible state secret. Macron could do it. And NATO could do it,” Amato noted.
Claims of French involvement are not a recent development. In a 2008 television interview, former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, who was the Prime Minister when the crash occurred, attributed it to a French missile that intended to target a Libyan military aircraft.
He also revealed that he was informed that Italy’s secret services military division had alerted Gaddafi.
In a reaction to Amato’s statements, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said her predecessor’s assertions “deserve attention.” Still, she also urged him to provide any concrete evidence he may have beyond “personal deductions.”
Nevertheless, these allegations could strain Franco-Italian relations, especially when the two countries strive to mend their diplomatic ties following a dispute earlier in the summer.
The disagreement arose when Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani canceled an official visit to Paris in response to criticism from French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin regarding Rome’s migration policy.
The Crash Of Flight 870
On June 27, 1980, a McDonnell Douglas DC-9 passenger aircraft departed from Bologna for Palermo, but approximately one hour into its planned flight, the plane vanished from radar screens.
Immediately following the accident, two Italian Air Force F-104s were dispatched to search for survivors. However, they could not locate any survivors due to poor visibility conditions.
The crash claimed the lives of all 81 individuals on board, including passengers and crew members. The Itavia Flight 870 tragedy remains in mystery four decades after the incident, with ongoing accusations and conspiracy theories.
This particular flight was considered one of the events during the “Years of Lead,” a period marked by a wave of far-right and far-left political terrorism incidents in Italy during the 1960s to 1980s.
The investigative efforts into the crash initially revealed physical evidence indicating that a bomb had detonated mid-flight, primarily in the rear lavatory of the aircraft.
A significant portion of the aircraft’s fuselage surrounding the lavatory was never recovered, most likely due to the force of the explosion.
Experiments involving a controlled explosion in a DC-9 lavatory produced deformations in the surrounding structure that resembled those observed on the accident aircraft.
In 1999, the terrorism theory was debunked. A thorough investigation led by Judge Rosario Priore suggested an alternative scenario. It concluded that Itavia Flight 870 appeared to have been inadvertently caught in a dogfight between Libyan MiG fighter jets and NATO jet fighters.
The Italian media suggested that the aircraft might have been inadvertently targeted during an assassination attempt on the Libyan politicians, potentially even on the Libyan leader, Muammar al-Gaddafi, who was reportedly flying in the same airspace on that fateful evening.
One of the prominent theories supporting the idea of a French missile attack on Itavia Flight 870 stems from the fact that the vessel participating in the search for DC-9 wreckage was of French origin.
This theory gained traction due to the perception that only US officials had access to the aircraft parts they uncovered during the search. This situation contributed to speculation and raised suspicions regarding the crash’s circumstances.
Additionally, investigators and the victims’ relatives encountered challenges in obtaining comprehensive and definitive information regarding the DC-9 disaster.
Due to the series of inconclusive or obstructed investigations, Itavia Flight 870 came to be commonly referred to as “un muro di gomma,” which translates to “a rubber wall.”
This term symbolizes the difficulty in penetrating the layers of secrecy and obfuscation surrounding the incident.