By Ilaria Polleschi and Antonella Cinelli

GENOA/ROME (Reuters) - An Italian anarchist group claimed responsibility for shooting and wounding the head of a nuclear engineering company and said it would strike again, spreading fears of a return to 1970s political violence in crisis-hit Italy.

In a letter sent to daily Corriere della Sera on Friday, a group calling itself the Olga Nucleus of the Informal Anarchist Federation-International Revolutionary Front said it had attacked the head of Ansaldo Nucleare to punish "one of the many sorcerers of the atomic industry".

The group said it would target "murderous" aerospace and defense giant Finmeccanica, the nuclear unit's parent company and Italy's second-biggest industrial group, with a string of actions that could ignite tension while the country struggles with painful economic reforms.

"Finmeccanica means death and exploitation," the four-page letter said, mentioning the Fukushima nuclear incident and noting that the company supplies "racist" U.S. police forces, "devastating" high-speed trains, and "lethal" fighter jets.

The shooting by masked gunmen of Ansaldo Nucleare head Roberto Adinolfi in the port city of Genoa on Monday came as Italy faces daily episodes of public anger at austerity measures taken by Prime Minister Mario Monti's government to rein in the country's spiraling public debt.

Genoa unions are planning to stage a protest in solidarity with Adinolfi on Monday while Finmeccanica's CEO said the company would not be deterred by violence: "An extremist is not enough to change the way we work," he said.

Leaflets mentioning the hard-leftist "Red Brigades" movement that spread terror in the 1970s and carrying their five-pointed star logo were plastered on the walls of official buildings in Legnano, about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Milan, police said.

Italian police believe the claim of the Italian anarchic group to be genuine and Genoa chief prosecutor Michele di Lecce said he could not rule out further action.

The same anarchist group claimed last year to have sent letter bombs targeting, among others, Deutsche Bank's boss Josef Ackermann. One of these blew off a finger of the director general of Italy's tax enforcement agency Equitalia in December.

On Friday, a suspect package containing powder but no detonator was sent to an Equitalia office in Rome while in Naples a citizen protest outside tax authority offices degenerated into clashes with the police.

THREAT OF VIOLENCE

Tax hikes and tough labor and pension reforms introduced by Monti's government have caused mounting resentment, although protests generally have been peaceful and there have been no real signs of organized political violence.

Yet, a wave of highly publicized suicides, especially among debt-stricken entrepreneurs, have highlighted the human cost of the crisis. Tax collectors, in particular, have become a hate figure as businessmen crippled by a credit crunch and slow business are struggling to keep up with high tax payments.

Last week, a 54-year-old businessman burst into an Equitalia office and held an official hostage at gunpoint for several hours before surrendering to police.

Monti condemned the latest incident and issued a statement expressing solidarity with the agency's staff. He is due to meet Equitalia management on Thursday.

In a speech to a small business association on Thursday, Industry Minister Corrado Passera said he was increasingly concerned by threats to Italy's social cohesion as the crisis continues.

"The widespread social unease linked to the lack of work in Italy is broader than statistics tell us," he said.

(Writing by Michel Rose and Lisa Jucca; Additional reporting by Claudia Cristoferi, Antonella Cinelli, Danilo Masoni; Editing by Myra MacDonald)




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