In one of the most traumatic events of post-war Italian history, Moro, who had served as prime minister for the Christian Democratic party in two separate terms, was abducted in Rome on March 16, 1978, by the Red Brigades, who killed five of his bodyguards in the most brazen terrorist attack in Italy's bloody 1970s.
The kidnappers demanded the release of 16 of their comrades in prison.
During his disappearance, the abductors held a mock "trial" for Moro and "sentenced" him to death.
Pope Paul VI pleaded publicly for Moro’s release. The pope even offered himself to the kidnappers in exchange for Moro’s freedom.
Moro’s body was found in the trunk of a car almost two months later -- symbolically, the car was parked halfway between the Rome headquarters of the Christian Democrat Party and the Communist Party.
According to French and Italian media reports, Moro might now be considered a “martyr to the faith” since he was murdered by people with a deep hostility toward the Catholic Church. Moreover, during his 55 days as a hostage, Moro reportedly asked for a Bible and also expressed the Christian act of forgiving his kidnappers.
Moro, who came from the more progressive wing of the Christian Democrats, first became prime minister of Italy in 1963, with support from the Italian Socialist Party, and remained in power until 1968. After serving as foreign minister from 1969 to 1974, he regained the job of prime minister, which he held until 1976.
In 1976, when the Italian Communist Party gained more than one-third of the votes in a national elections Moro (now as president of the Christian Democratic party) sought to include Communists in the cabinet -- a move that was opposed by right-wing members of the Christian Democrat party, as well as by some foreign powers, including the U.S.
During his two months of captivity, Moro was permitted to write letters to friends and family, while security forces aggressively conducted a huge manhunt across the country to find him. The government (led by Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, a fellow Chridtian Democrat but of a different faction) refused to negotiate with the kidnappers.
Mario Moretti, the leader of the Red Brigades, who admitted to organizing the kidnapping and murder of Moro, was eventually sentenced to six life terms in prison. However, he was paroled in the 1990s and is allowed to work outside of prison by day, while returning at night.
The murder of Moro elicited outrage not only from Italian lawmakers and security forces, but also from other left-wing militant figures, including even Alberto Franceschini, one of the founders of the Brigades, who had already been arrested by the time Moro was kidnapped.
In the wake of Moro’s disappearance and killing, conspiracy theories have abounded, some even suggesting that the Red Brigades were not the real culprits, but rather the patsies of reactionaries who wanted Moro’s removal from Italy’s body politic.
Some conspiracy theorists have proposed that the shadowy “Gladio network” (under the direction of NATO) orchestrated Moro’s abduction and murder over fears that he was too friendly with Communists. In fact, both Franceschini and a Communist scholar named Sergio Flamigni believed Mario Moretti was a spy who secretly worked on behalf of Gladio. Some have speculated that the United States government may also have been involved. Reportedly, one month before his kidnapping, Moro met with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who warned him against bringing Communists into the Italian cabinet.
Steve Pieczenik, a former member of the U.S. State Department, said in a 2006 documentary on Moro, "We had to sacrifice Aldo Moro to maintain the stability of Italy."
However, as with the mystery surrounding the 1963 assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, the theories behind Moro’s murder are numerous, but the matter may never be solved.