By Steve Scherer
ROME (Reuters) - A bomb exploded in front of a school in southern Italy on Saturday, killing a 16 year-old girl and wounding at least six others, two seriously, authorities said on Saturday.
The explosion, near the entrance of a girls' school named after the wife of murdered anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, occurred as pupils were preparing to enter the school at the start of the school day, which in Italy includes Saturdays.
Authorities said two gas canisters appear to have been placed in rubbish containers at the school, which local media said was located near the main court in Brindisi, a port city located in Apulia, on the "heel" of Italy.
"This is a tragedy," Mimmo Consales, the mayor of Brindisi, told SkyTG24 news television, saying that two of the injured were in a "desperate condition" while four others were less seriously hurt.
A surgeon told local TV Telenorba that one of the injured girls was currently undergoing a complicated surgery.
There was no claim of responsibility and no indication of who had placed the bomb but initial suspicions were directed at the mafia.
Consales noted that the incident occurred just a few days before the 20th anniversary of the murder of Falcone and his wife, Francesca Morvillo, by a bomb in Sicily on May 23, 1992. An anti-mafia march had been planned later in the day.
"You can understand the symbolism of this and what it all signifies," he said.
Television shots of the scene showed a cement wall blackened by fire next to the school's entrance gate on a sunny spring day.
Schools in the region were closed and President Giorgio Napolitano issued a statement condemning the attack. A group of investigators, including the region's top anti-mafia prosecutor, will meet later on Saturday to discuss the probe.
Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri announced plans several days ago to step up security around sensitive targets including official buildings after a series of threats against tax officials.
Italy's main tax and fine collection agency, Equitalia, has been targeted by a series of small explosive devices amid a growing wave of public anger over the high taxes imposed to shore up public finances and combat the economic crisis.
The head of Ansaldo Nucleare, a nuclear engineering company owned by defence technology group Finmeccanica, was shot in the leg in an attack claimed by an anarchist group, adding to concerns that extremist groups may try to exploit the public anger.
(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Tim Pearce/Maria Golovnina)