On this day,1992 – Anti-Mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino killed in car explosion

Reading Time: 5 minutes

The via D’Amelio bombing  was an attack by the Sicilian Mafia which took place in Palermo, Sicily, on 19 July 1992. It killed anti-mafia magistrate Paolo Borsellino and five members of his police escort: Agostino Catalano, Emanuela Loi (the first Italian female member of a police escort and the first one to be killed on duty), Vincenzo Li Muli, Walter Eddie Cosina and Claudio Traina.

The so-called agenda rossa, the red notebook in which Borsellino used to write down details of his investigations and which he always carried on his person, disappeared from the site in the moments after the explosion.


A carabinieri officer who was present when the explosion occurred reported he had delivered the notebook to Giuseppe Ayala, the first Palermo magistrate to arrive at the scene. Ayala, who said he had refused to receive it, was later criticised for saying escorts to anti-mafia judges should be reduced, despite evidence of further failed attempts on them in subsequent years.


The bombing occurred at 4:58 PM on 19 July 1992, 57 days after the bombing of Capaci, in which Borsellino’s friend, anti-mafia magistrate Giovanni Falcone, had been killed with his wife and police escort. The only survivor of the escort in the massacre of Via D’Amelio, Antonino Vullo, said the judge had stayed in his summer residence outside Palermo from 1:30 pm to around 4:00 pm, when he and the escort drove to Via D’Amelio in the Sicilian capital, where he was to meet his mother. When they arrived, Vullo and the other agents noticed nothing unusual except some parked cars. The car in which Borsellino had been travelling exploded, along with one of the escort cars, while Vullo was sitting in a third car.

The bomb, containing some 100 kg of TNT, had been placed in a Fiat 126. Normal procedure when Borsellino travelled was to clear the road of cars before his arrival, but this was not allowed by the administration of the comune of Palermo, as reported by another anti-mafia judge, Antonino Caponnetto. Gaspare Spatuzza, a mafioso who later became a pentito, eventually revealed he had stolen the Fiat 126 on the orders of the and Brancaccio mafia clans.

The bloodbath provoked outrage. The night after the massacre, protesters peacefully besieged the prefecture of Palermo. Borsellino’s funeral saw vehement protests by the crowd against the participants; the national police chief, Arturo Parisi, was struck while trying to escape. A few days later, questore (local police commander) Vito Plantone and prefetto Mario Jovine were transferred. The chief prosecutor of Palermo, Pietro Giammanco, resigned. Meanwhile, 7,000 soldiers were sent to Sicily to patrol roads and possible locations for attacks.

In July 2007 the prosecutor’s office in Caltanissetta opened an investigation into the possible involvement of agents from SISDE, Italy’s civil intelligence service, in the massacre. At the same time, a letter from Borsellino’s brother Salvatore was published. Entitled 19 luglio 1992: Una strage di stato (“19 July 1992: A state massacre”), the letter supports the hypothesis that Minister of the Interior Mancino knew the reasons for the magistrate’s assassination. Salvatore Borsellino wrote:

I ask senator Mancino, who shed a tear, I remember, during a commemoration of Paolo in Palermo in the years after 1992, to strain his memory to tell us what they talked about in the meeting with Paolo in the days immediately before his death. Or to explain why, after phoning my brother to meet him when he was interrogating Gaspare Mutolo [a mafia pentito] just 48 hours before the massacre, he had him meet Police Chief Parisi and Bruno Contrada [a SISDE officer who was later convicted for leaking details of investigations to mafiosi], a meeting that disturbed Paolo so much that he was seen holding two lit cigarettes at the same time … That meeting surely holds the key to his death and to the massacre of Via D’Amelio.

The first investigations led to the arrest of Vincenzo Scarantino on 26 September 1992, accused by pentiti of having stolen the car used in the explosion. (Scarantino later became a pentito himself.) The magistrates also discovered the phone of Borsellino’s mother had been tapped. A first trial for the massacre ended on 26 January 1996, with Scarantino sentenced to 18 years in prison, while Giuseppe Orofino, Salvatore Profeta and Pietro Scotto, those who prepared the bomb and intercepted the phone, were sentenced to life imprisonment. Scotto and Orofino, however, were acquitted on appeal. A second trial was started in 2002 after Scarantino changed his statements; this time, bosses Riina and were accused of having ordered the massacre. Riina, Aglieri, Salvatore Biondino, Giuseppe Graviano, Carlo Greco, Gaetano Scotto, Francesco Tagliavia, Cosimo Vernengo, Giuseppe La Mattina, Natale Gambino, Lorenzo Tinnirello, Giuseppe Urso and Gaetano Muran were sentenced to life imprisonment. A third trial involved 26 other mafia bosses who had been involved in the massacre in various ways, ending with life sentences for Bernardo Provenzano, Pippo Calò, Michelangelo La Barbera, Raffaele Ganci, Domenico Ganci, Francesco Madonia, Giuseppe Montalto, Filippo Graviano, Cristoforo Cannella, Salvatore Biondo and another Salvatore Biondo.[16]

In 1992 the Italian political world was shaken by the Mani Pulite (clean hands) corruption scandal, after which most of the parties that had been the traditional political supporters of the mafia would disappear. In 2009 Massimo Ciancimino, son of the mafioso former mayor of Palermo Vito Ciancimino, said the Italian establishment and the mafia had been negotiating a pact in those days. Among other things, the agreement would involve the creation of a new party, Forza Italia, with the help of founder Silvio Berlusconi’s chief collaborator, Marcello Dell’Utri, who was later convicted of allegiance to the mafia.

After the new revelations, Sicilian attorneys started new investigations based on the hypothesis that Borsellino knew of the negotiations between the mafia, SISDE and senior politicians, and that he was assassinated because of this knowledge. The existence of negotiations between Italian institutions and the Sicilian mafia was confirmed in 2012 by Caltanissetta prosecutor Nico Gozzo as “by now an established fact”.

Once you're here...

  • On This Day…

  • On This Day…

  • On This Day…

%d bloggers like this: