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Journalist: Milan crash evoked terror fears

The plane left a gaping hole in Milan's tallest building.  

Editor's Note: CNN Access is a regular feature on providing interviews with newsmakers from around the world.

MILAN, Italy (CNN) -- The accidental crash of a small plane into a Milan skyscraper Thursday quickly and sweepingly evoked fears of another September 11 -- from witnesses, businessmen, even a government minister.

Journalist Kevin Michael Buckley talked with CNN's Arthel Neville about the accident scene, knee-jerk reactions on the streets and in government chambers and the incident's relation to Italy's own fight against and fears of terrorism.

BUCKLEY: What appears to be a tragic accident has reduced Milan to chaos this evening, right in the middle of the evening rush hour. The main [train] station has closed down, there are huge traffic jams snarled up everywhere.

But I have to say that, from the public point of view, the Italians here have handled it very well. The police have managed to isolate the area, cordoned off to avoid unnecessary injury such as from falling glass. They have a lot of tall buildings around that area, and several windows have caved in onto the street. ... Things are very quickly returning to normal -- apart from, of course, the traffic jams.

A small plane hit a Milan skyscraper, the tallest building in Italy, setting the top floors of the 32-story building on fire. (April 18)

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The Pirelli building 

From the site itself, we have a completely darkened building with a couple of spotlights trained on that gaping wound [that] goes from one side of the building to another...

NEVILLE: Were people there, at the site, wondering like we were here in America if this was another terrorist attack?

BUCKLEY: Absolutely. Everybody I've talked to had no doubt at all [that this was a terrorist attack] -- people in the area, businessmen running out of local hotels, people going to catch trains. Everybody assumed, 'Oh, my god, it's some kind of mini-repeat of what happened back in September.'

I myself was working at home just a quarter of a mile from the scene. And the vibrations from the explosion, then the shock wave, followed moments later by the noise, suggested to me immediately that we were talking about a bomb.

However, so far it appears that we've been proven wrong and it is just a crazy, bizarre accident with a desperate pilot trying to avoid the building.

Everybody here -- certainly every single person I've talked to -- assumed that terror had come to the heart of Milan, partly because we have had several incidents recently in which the government has announced increased states of alert.

Every since September, of course, there has been a higher state of alert generally, with a much greater presence of armed police at any sensitive building such as embassies, airports, religious sites and places of historic interest.

And recently we've had another round-up of suspects -- we're at 28 total suspects in custody in Italy. And police are still investigating various links to those arrests.

NEVILLE: What sort of steps did the Italian government take after hearing of this accident today?

BUCKLEY: I think it could cause a little bit of controversy in the following days because they leaped to the conclusion, as we all did, that it was a terror attack simply because, I suppose, the logistics of it: tall building, plane crashing into it. If it had all happened before September 11, we wouldn't have thought that.

NEVILLE: Did they go on an increased sort of alert or something like that?

BUCKLEY: Absolutely, absolutely. We were already on an increased state of alert compared to normal, which was stepped up even further during Easter with indications that terror groups were planning some sort of attack in Italy.

That then became a bit of a political controversy, simply because nothing happened. Politicians started pointing at each other, saying that there had been some kind of over-reaction and a poor reading of security information.

Today's incident did spark that kind of reaction from the government immediately. A minister announced, within 20 minutes, in Parliament that we were dealing with a terrorist attack of major proportions. That was contracted very quickly, but I think that will cause controversy here in that even the government minister reacted in a knee-jerk way.

To be fair to the government, that [reaction] probably does reflect the human reality of the situation -- if you see something very similar to a recent attack, it's certainly natural to leap to that conclusion at least in the initial stages.




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