By Paola Balsomini
GENOA, Italy (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen on a motorbike shot the chief executive of an Italian nuclear engineering company in the leg on Monday, police said, in an incident reminiscent of politically motivated violence that raged in the country in the 1970s and 1980s.
Roberto Adinolfi, chief executive of Ansaldo Nucleare - majority owned by Italian defense conglomerate Finmeccanica - was shot outside his house in Genoa in northern Italy, police and judicial sources told Reuters.
Two men on a black Yamaha motorbike wearing helmets fired three shots, fracturing Adinolfi's right knee. He was not in a serious condition, the sources said.
Shooting people in the legs was a trademark practice of the Red Brigades, a left-wing guerrilla group that carried out a campaign of murder and kidnapping aimed at destabilizing Italy in the 1970s and 1980s and known as "the years of lead".
One investigative source noted that one of the first attacks by the Red Brigades in the 1970s had targeted managers of the same company.
"It could turn out to be a symbolic gesture," he said.
Genoa chief prosecutor Michele Di Lecce told reporters he could not rule out that the shooting was an act of "terrorism".
"But we are also considering other possibilities. No one has claimed responsibility," he said.
Politicians from all sides were quick to condemn Adinolfi's shooting, some of them blaming a growing "climate of hatred" in the recession-hit country.
"We hope investigators can find as quickly as possible those responsible for an act that takes us back to a very sad chapter of Italian history," said lawmaker Lorenzo Cesa of the centrist UDC party.
Angelino Alfano, an ally of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, called the shooting "the very serious symptom of a climate of social tension".
Finmeccanica controls Ansaldo Energia, the parent company of Ansaldo Nucleare, whose other major shareholder is U.S. private equity fund First Reserve Corporation.
The Genoa attack would be "extremely serious" if it was linked to political and social frictions, said the chief financial officer of Finmeccanica, Alessandro Pansa.
Austerity measures by the government of Prime Minister Mario Monti to control Italy's huge public debt have caused mounting resentment, although protests have generally been peaceful and there have been no real signs of organized political violence.
A string of suicides, notably among businessmen suffering financial problems, has however underlined the human cost of the crisis.
Last week, a 54-year-old man took a hostage in the offices of tax agency Equitalia in an act of desperation, although the incident ended without violence.
(Additional reporting by Emilio Parodi; Writing by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Louise Ireland)