Italian prosecutors charged a 28-year-old man on Sunday with attempting a racially-motivated massacre after he shot and injured six African immigrants in the city of Macerata, as political tensions over migration flared up ahead of the country’s March election.
Luca Traini, a failed candidate for the city council representing Italy’s anti-immigrant and Eurosceptic Northern League, confessed to the shooting spree after handing himself into the Carabinieri, the military police force, on Saturday. He was later transferred to prison.
From his small black Alfa Romeo 147 car, Mr Traini — who had Nazi paraphernalia at home — spread terror through the small provincial capital in the hills of the central Marche region on Saturday, shooting at immigrants as well as the local office of the centre-left Democratic party. Before surrendering, Mr Traini raised his arm in a fascist salute and wrapped himself in the Italian flag.
The shooting came just days after Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old woman from Rome, was found dead in Macerata after disappearing from a rehabilitation facility. Her body had been butchered and placed in two suitcases. Innocent Oseghale, a Nigerian, was arrested in connection with her death and accused of murder. He has denied the charges.
According to Italian media, Mr Traini said he had heard of Ms Mastropietro’s killing on the radio while he was headed to the gym, prompting him to return home, grab his gun and target immigrants in the town. Two were seriously injured by Mr Traini, who also sported a tattoo of a “wolf’s hook” rune — described by the Anti-Defamation League as a “symbol of choice” for Neo-Nazis in Europe and the US — on his temple.
Ms Mastropietro’s gruesome death and Mr Traini’s attack inflamed the political debate as Italy prepares to go to the polls on March 4. More than 620,000 migrants have arrived in Italian ports over the past four years. While many have moved north to other EU countries, Italy has struggled to care for and integrate those who have remained.
The centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, is ahead in the polls on a promise to crack down on immigration. After Ms Mastropietro’s death, Matteo Salvini, the Northern League leader and Mr Berlusconi’s main coalition partner, said the “left’s hands are soiled with blood”, describing the Nigerian suspect as a “worm”.
On Saturday, Mr Salvini said “violence is never the solution”, but added: “Out-of-control immigration brings chaos, rage, social clashes. Out-of-control immigration brings drug dealing, rape, theft, and violence.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post Italy, Romano Carancini, the Democratic party mayor of Macerata, warned that Mr Salvini’s rhetoric was prevailing. “What happened? Those who were racist have armed themselves with a gun and those who were not are becoming [racist],” Mr Carancini said.
Roberto D’Alimonte, a professor of political science at Luiss University in Rome, said it was unclear what the political fallout might be. “It might reinforce the convictions of those who have decided to vote for the Northern League, but we don’t know what the impact will be on moderate voters who have not made up their minds,” Mr D’Alimonte said.
Paolo Gentiloni, the centre-left prime minister, appealed for calm on Saturday afternoon, as Marco Minniti, the interior minister, headed to Macerata to meet local authorities.
“Criminal behaviour cannot have any ideological motivation,” Mr Gentiloni said from the prime minister’s official residence at the Palazzo Chigi in Rome. “The state will be particularly severe towards those who are trying to fuel a spiral of violence. Let’s stop this risk. Let’s stop this now. Let’s stop it together,” he added.
Matteo Renzi, the former Italian prime minister and PD leader, said in a Facebook post: “True patriotism isn’t going around shooting with a flag on your shoulder, but choosing wisdom, balance and responsibility even in moments of difficulty.”
Under Mr Minniti’s watch, Italy has managed to reduce the flow of migrants from the Mediterranean dramatically since July, as a result of a controversial agreement with Libya. But the arrivals have not been halted completely; more than 4,500 migrants have reached Italian ports this year.
Meanwhile, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Italy’s strongest single party with the support of about 28 per cent of Italians heading into the election, shied away from taking a strong position on the events in Macerata, simply calling for “silence” in the wake of the shooting. Five Star draws support from both the right and the left of Italy’s political spectrum — and has generally avoided tilting heavily one way or the other on the issue of migration.
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