July 27, 2019 / 9:44 PM / 21 days ago

Two U.S. teens arrested in murder of Italian military police officer

ROME (Reuters) - Two American teens were arrested on Saturday in Rome accused of the stabbing murder of an Italian military police officer in a crime that has shaken Italy, law enforcement officials said.

Judicial sources named the students as Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, both from San Francisco. They face charges of murder and attempted extortion.

Mario Cerciello Rega, a 35-year-old officer with Italy’s Carabinieri military police, was repeatedly stabbed early on Friday while trying to arrest two people suspected of stealing a backpack. Another officer was injured in the incident.

The New York Times, citing a statement from the Carabinieri, said the pair were taken into custody at a four-star hotel in the Prati neighbourhood of Rome and confessed to the crime during interrogation.

An Italian lawyer for Elder, Francesco Codini, told the Times that the two men had asserted their right to remain silent during a court hearing in Rome on Saturday afternoon.

Codini declined to confirm or deny that his client had confessed, but the Times quoted him as saying Elder was “not well” and did not speak Italian.

Initial media reports had suggested the assailants were from North Africa.

Police released video showing two men following another person in the Trastevere district of Rome. The person being followed accused the two men of later stealing his bag, containing his phone and a small amount of cash, police said.

The owner called his own phone and one of the thieves offered to sell the bag back to him, agreeing to meet in a nearby neighbourhood. The owner then alerted the police, who approached the suspects.

One of the two men pulled a knife and stabbed Rega, who was in civilian clothes and had married less than two months ago. He died almost immediately.

Police murders are rare in Italy and politicians of all parties expressed their horror and outrage.

Reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan and Domenico Lusi in Rome; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Sonya Hepinstall

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