Brigadier General (later Major General) James Lee Dozier was kidnapped by the Red Brigades terrorist group in December of 1981 in Verona, Italy. He was held hostage in an apartment for 42 days. Then a team of Italian Special Operations police stormed the apartment, freed Dozier and arrested six terrorists without firing a shot on January 28, 1982.
Dozier was a 1956 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was a classmate of Norman Schwartzkopf. During the Vietnam War, he spent 1968 and 1969 with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment where he was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart.
At the time of his abduction, BG Dozier was the deputy chief of staff for logistics and administration, responsible mainly for supply and personnel, for the NATO southern European Land Forces Command headquartered in Verona. He was the senior American officer there and had served in Verona since June of 1981.
The Red Brigades were a group of radical communists who broke from and were publicly disowned by the Italian Communist Party. They carried out a number of highly publicized terrorist acts beginning in the early 1970s. Perhaps the most infamous was the 1978 kidnapping of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in an ambush that killed five of his security detail. Moro was held 54 days and then murdered. His body was discovered in the trunk of a car.
The Red Brigades considered Dozier a viable target since the United States at that time held close ties to the existing Italian government and they were in the process of deploying nuclear Pershing II and Cruise missiles in Western Europe, including in Sicily, to counter the threat of Soviet SS-20 missiles aimed at Europe.
Dozier admitted after the fact that he never took the idea that he’d be a target seriously. “Quite frankly, I had no indication that I was a target. All the intelligence I received at the time — and I thought I had pretty good intelligence — gave me no indication that I was a target for the Red Brigades,” he said several years after the incident.
On the evening of December 17, 1981, a team of four Red Brigade terrorists masqueraded as plumbers and infiltrated the apartment building where Dozier and his wife lived. Around 6 p.m., they knocked on the Doziers door to investigate a supposed leak from above them inside the apartment building above them on the upper floor. They held a gun to Mrs. Dozier’s head to convince her husband not to resist. He was clubbed and dragged out to a car where an additional team of four terrorists was the back-up team to the kidnapping.
Mrs. Dozier was not kidnapped but was tied to a chair, bound and gagged and left in their apartment. She continuously banged on the floor of the apartment for several hours before getting the attention of neighbors.
Dozier was whisked to a Red Brigades’ safe house in Padua. Inside an apartment, he was placed inside a tent and forced to wear headphones that played loud music. From the Naval War College’s paper, “The Red Brigades”:
“For more than a month, Dozier’s right wrist and left ankle were chained to a steel cot, which was placed under a small tent. He was also forced to live under the “never-extinguished glare of an electric bulb.” Dozier’s captors also required him to wear earphones and listen to loud music. During Dozier’s captivity, the Red Brigades issued various communiqués to the government and the public generally, describing their demands or complaints. They issued the first communiqué only days after the kidnapping; it was striking for its lack of any ransom demand.
Instead, it dwelled on international matters of interest to the Red Brigades, including a tribute to the German Red Army Faction. Subsequent communiqués also failed to mention ransom demands and even lacked any particular reference to Dozier. The fifth communiqué, retrieved from a trash can in downtown Rome, contained a number of anti-NATO and anti-American statements but did not make any specific demands for Dozier’s release.”
Dozier became a model hostage, allowing them to relax their guard. “I did the same things at the same time every day,” he recalled in a 2006 interview. “I asked for and was given a deck of cards, which helped them to see me as more human rather than just a hostage,” he said.
Rescue by Italian Special Operations Police:
Meanwhile, the Italian authorities were mobilizing a huge manhunt searching for Dozier and the terrorists who seized them. They finally tracked them to the Padua flat where Dozier was being held.
Heading up the rescue operation was the Nucleo Operativo Centrale di Sicurezza (NOCS), the Central Security Operations Service was part of the Italian Central Directorate for the Anti-Terrorism Police.
At 11:25 on the morning of Jan 28, 1982, Major Edoardo Perna and 12 other men launched the daring rescue operation. A six-man security team secured the perimeter while Perna and six others stormed the apartment where five Brigades members, including two women, were holding Dozier captive. Perna’s men were dressed in work clothes.
Perna moved forward and cold-cocked one of the women terrorists as soon as the door was knocked down. He used her as a shield as he raced towards the interior of the apartment. The terrorist who was supposed to kill Dozier if a rescue attempt was made was slow in reacting, partly due to Dozier’s daily activities which in essence, put him to sleep. As he tried to reach inside the tent with a pistol, he was butt-ended and disabled by one of Perna’s men who raced towards the tent.
Dozier, panicked and afraid that another rival faction of the Red Brigades was coming to kill him, initially fought with his rescuers. “I did not know what was happening. I had read accounts of the Aldo Moro kidnapping and about the factions within the Red Brigades and my first thoughts were that I may be caught up in a jurisdictional dispute among factions of the Red Brigades,” he recalled.
“They (police) pushed their way into my part of the tent and I tried to push them back out because I wasn’t sure who they were. But then it dawned on me that these probably were policemen … and one of them removed his ski mask.”
It was over in a matter of seconds. All of the terrorists were captured, Dozier was freed and would attend the trial in March of 1982.
Soon after he was rescued, Dozier, none the worse for wear, other than some hearing loss due to the loud music and being bearded received a phone call from President Reagan.
During the trial, the leader of the kidnapping team, Antonio Savasta, gave evidence to the Italian authorities of not only this ordeal but of the Aldo Moro kidnapping and murder of which he also took part in. The Italian press called him a “singing canary” as he testified to get a lenient sentence. Savasta took part in 17 different killings with the Red Brigades before being caught.
He was sentenced to 16 years and six months in prison. He was freed after serving 10 of those. Dozier testified at their trial but had no problems with their release. “If he has been sufficiently punished in the eyes of the Italian government that’s fine with me,” he said at the time.
The Dozier kidnapping was the high-water mark for the Red Brigades, who then splintered around the mid-1980s, with a faction splitting off into The New Red Brigades/Communist Combatant Party and the Union of Combatant Communists. The New Brigades inherited the militancy of the original Red Brigades. The New Red Brigades claimed responsibility for the assassinations of labor minister advisor Massimo D’Antona in 1999, and others in the early 2000s.
They then, according to global terrorism sources, developed ties with Islamic terrorist organizations. A Brigades spokesman parrotted the Islamic terrorism playbook and was quoted as saying that the “Zionist entity” is trying to destroy “Arab and Islamic masses who have been expropriated and humiliated by imperialism and who constitute the natural ally of the urban proletarian class in European countries.”