ROME (AP) — A young American tourist has confessed to fatally stabbing an Italian paramilitary policeman who was investigating the theft of a bag and cellphone before dawn Friday, the Italian news agency ANSA and state radio reported.
ANSA, citing unidentified investigators, said two American tourists allegedly snatched the bag of a drug dealer who had swindled them. It said the owner called police to say he had arranged a meeting with the thieves to get back his bag and phone.
When two plainclothes officers arrived at the rendezvous site in Rome’s Prati neighborhood about 3 a.m., there was a scuffle during which Carabinieri paramilitary officer Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed eight times, ANSA said.
RAI state radio reported early Saturday that the two tourists are 19 years old and had been seen on video surveillance cameras apparently running away with the bag, which was stolen in another neighborhood, Trastevere, which is very popular with young Italians and foreigners for its night life.
The Carabinieri police corps did not immediately confirm the alleged confession.
Prosecutors were apparently still questioning the Americans at a Carabinieri station in Rome early Saturday.
Police said earlier Friday evening that several people, including two American tourists, were being questioned in the case.
Carabinieri Lt. Col. Orazio Ianniello said the Americans were staying at an upscale hotel near where the policeman was stabbed. He said their identities and hometowns were not being immediately released.
Earlier the Carabinieri said the thieves had been demanding a 100-euro ($112) ransom to return the bag with the cellphone.
Stabbed in the heart and the back, the officer died shortly after in a hospital, Italian media said.
Cerciello Rega’s station commander, Sandro Ottaviani, said the 35-year-old officer had married his longtime sweetheart about five weeks ago and returned from his honeymoon just a few days ago.
Colleagues and charities praised Cerciello Rega for his generosity. He sometimes accompanied ailing people to a religious shrine in the town of Loreto, Ottaviani said.
Others recalled that the Carabinieri officer would frequently check on the homeless living in Rome’s main train station, helping dish out hot meals to the hungry, distributing clothes and sometimes even buying lunch for them out of his own pocket.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who commands state police, another national law enforcement branch, vowed to apprehend the killer, saying authorities would “make him pay dearly.”