ROME -- Italian authorities moved Thursday to step up police protection for thousands of people and offices considered potential targets of violence triggered by anger over Italy's economic crisis.
The decision by Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri to assign 18,000 law enforcement officers to security detail was prompted by the shooting two weeks ago of a top nuclear industry executive and recent threats and acts of aggression directed at offices of Equitalia, the state tax-collection agency.
Hostility is running so high against Equitalia that Prime Minister Mario Monti paid a visit Thursday to the tax agency’s office and assured employees of his unconditional support.
To deal with the threat of further violence, Cancellieri convened a meeting of a national security committee, where she said the latest events demonstrated that "it is necessary to maintain a high level of attention and vigilance," said a statement from the Interior Ministry.
Roberto Adinolfi, 53, a senior executive of the nuclear engineering company Ansaldo Nucleare, was shot in the leg May 7 by a gunman on a scooter in Genoa.
A group calling itself the FAI, or Informal Anarchist Federation, claimed responsibility a few days later in a letter sent to the Milan daily Corriere della Sera. It accused Adinolfi of being "one of the sorcerers of the atomic industry."
The Interior Ministry said that facilities of Finmeccanica, the aerospace and defense conglomerate that owns Ansaldo, would be among the sites under increased surveillance.
Much of the frustration and anger that Italians feel toward the austerity measures and tax increases put in place by the Monti government to deal with Italy's economic and financial crisis has been directed at Equitalia.
The agency has been criticized for being callous and unyielding in the way it collects taxes and fines in arrears. Politicians from across the political spectrum as well as consumer groups object that the agency doesn't differentiate between deliberate tax evaders and the pensioners or the unemployed who simply cannot make their payments.
Threats, acts of vandalism and even letter bombs and Molotov cocktails have been directed at Equitalia offices and personnel.
In his visit to the tax-collection agency's headquarters in Rome on Thursday, Monti said the employees were only doing their job, and that "paying taxes is a duty."
Monti and his government have made fighting Italy's endemic tax evasion a keystone of their efforts to restore the economy.
The shooting of Adinolfi, who has been released from the hospital, has generated fears of copycat incidents or further attacks from anarchist or other groups.
Photo: Police investigate the site of the May 7 shooting of Roberto Adinolfi, an official at a nuclear energy company, in Genoa, Italy. An anarchist group claimed responsibility for the attack. Credit: Paolo Rattini / Agence France-Presse/Getty Images