Someone in northern Italy may be sending an anti-war message to Americans through their cars.
Three vehicles with Allied Forces International license plates were destroyed by arson attacks in a single night last week, bringing back memories of 1999 to longtime residents.
During Operation Allied Force over the skies of Yugoslavia in 1999, 11 cars bearing AFI plates were torched.
Several Italian law enforcement agencies are investigating the new incidents. Two vehicles were destroyed after darkness fell Tuesday night in Vicenza. Another was burned in Maniago, a small city northeast of Aviano.
Mark Lunardi, a special agent with the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, said the person or persons responsible appear “more interested in making a point and conducting a symbolic attack against an American target, rather than targeting American people.”
Lunardi said the attacks appear to reflect an anti-war sentiment and — coupled with the attacks in 1999 — “do seem to correspond to world events.”
All three of the cars — and 10 of the 11 cars targeted in 1999 — were parked on the street.
Lunardi said there are several measures people can take to make their cars tougher targets.
“If you have a carport, garage or any other secure place, use it,” Lunardi said. Only one of the cars attacked in 1999 was parked in any kind of structure.
Another is to blend in more. Both the Army in Vicenza and the Air Force in Aviano have been encouraging personnel to get Italian license plates for their vehicles.
The plates, which are identical to those issued to local nationals, have previously taken months to get in Aviano. But recent changes make them easier to obtain and a little cheaper. Currently, it costs about 60 euro ($54) to purchase them.
Lunardi and Margret Menzies, a spokeswoman for the 22nd Area Support Group in Vicenza, both expressed confidence in the Italian authorities investigating the incidents.
“We are grateful to the Carabinieri, Polizia and other Italian officials for their efforts,” Menzies said. “We have trust in our Italian neighbors and believe that while some Italians may not approve of the American government, they are not against Americans in general.
“As in America, we know a small faction will always exist that believes that political violence is a legitimate means of engaging in politics.”
Lunardi said the OSI and its Army counterpart in Vicenza are helping out the Italians “with whatever assistance we can provide.” But he said a few thousand more eyes couldn’t hurt.
Americans living in the region should “do their best to keep their eyes open for anything that looks suspicious.” And report incidents to local American security forces personnel.
Lunardi said a shadowy anti-globalization group that claimed responsibility for half the 1999 attacks has said it is responsible for the most recent attacks.
Many of the attacks in 1999 involved detonating gas canisters underneath cars, but the method of attack could be different this time.