Police said Friday that a member of Japan's Red Army terrorist group was the prime suspect in a car bomb explosion outside a U.S. military club that killed an American servicewoman and four Italians.
Investigators said they were searching for Junzo Okudaira, 39, who is also suspected in rocket and bomb attacks on the U.S. and British embassies in Rome last June.At least 17 people, including four U.S. sailors, were hurt in the Thursday night blast outside the United Services Organization club in downtown Naples.
The Pentagon identified the slain sailor as 21-year-old Angela Simone Santos, a radioman 3rd class from Ocala, Fla. She had been stationed at the Naval Communications Area Major Station in Naples since March 1985.
A man called a French news agency office in Rome Friday and claimed the attack in the name of a group calling itself the Organization of Jihad Brigades.
"The American imperialists must die today, two years after their barbarous attack against the Libyan Arab state," the caller said in accented English. "Jihad" means "holy war" in Arabic.
At 2 a.m. on April 15, 1986, the United States bombed the Libyan capital in retaliation for alleged Libyan involvement in the bombing of a West Berlin nightclub. Two U.S. servicemen and a Turkish woman died in the nightclub blast.
The Libyan ambassador to Italy, Abdulrahman Shargam, told the ANSA news agency that attempts to link Libya to the bombing were disinformation.
Romano Argenio of Italy's anti-terrorist police said investigators believed Okudaira had accomplices and that they were taking the claim seriously.
"We do not think that the attack was organized by the Red Army alone," said Argenio, who is leading the investigation. "We think he was working with other terrorist groups which we are still trying to identify."
Argenio said Okudaira is believed to have parked the rented car, laden with explosives, outside the club.
Earlier, ANSA quoted an unidentified police official as saying "the Middle East connection seems most likely." State-run RAI television reported receiving a call Friday from a man who said "Justice has been done for the Lebanese people."
The blast damaged the club's interior, wrecked cars and shattered windows along narrow San Marco street.
The slain Italians included a souvenir vendor who regularly sat outside the club and three passers-by.
The bomb, in a white car with Milan license plates, exploded at about 8 p.m. (2 p.m. EDT). Navy spokesman Lt. David Morris said most of the sailors in the club were from the frigates USS Capodanno and USS Paul, which are anchored in Naples.
U.S. sailor John Nichols from the USS Paul was quoted in Naples' Il Mattino newspaper as saying he saw a man with dark hair and olive skin, who "didn't look like an Italian," put something inside the car and flee just before it exploded.
"We were getting ready to lower the shutters when the world exploded around us. We heard desperate shouts. We ran out into the street," said Valaria Spinetti, 22, who works at a nearby store.
"What a terrible scene. I saw three or for people transformed into torches who were crying for help," she added. "I went back into the store to get a fire extinguisher. When I went back into the street they were already burned beyond recognition."
One of the bodies was later draped with an American flag.
Okudaira was identified as having rented the car that blew up outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome last June. There were no injuries in either that attack of the one on the British Embassy.
Okudaira is also suspected of involvement in attacks on Western embassies in Europe in the 1970s.
He was arrested in Jordan in 1976 on charges of possessing a false passport and deported to Japan but was freed in 1977 when hijackers of a Japan Air Lines jet in Bangladesh demanded his release.