1 of 2

Italian police have arrested two US soldiers from an army garrison in Vicenza, near Venice, over the rape of a pregnant woman.

The pair, identified as Gray Gerelle Lamarcus, 22, and Edil McCough, 21, allegedly sexually abused, beat up and robbed a 24-year-old woman of Romanian origins was six month pregnant.

The woman, who occasionally worked as a prostitute, was repeatedly punched in the stomach, her lawyer said.

Lamarcus and McCough allegedly negotiated a sexual encounter with their victim but then decided not to pay.

They led the woman to an isolated area outside town at night and brutally beat her. The two paratroopers then abused her for several hours. Once finished, they left her naked in a field robbing her of her purse.

A few hours later, she managed to contact a friend who alerted the police. Detectives said they found her bag and underwear inside one of the soldiers' car.

The incident took place in mid-July and the two paratroopers have now been placed under house arrest, pending an investigation. The soldiers are believed to be held at an Italian army post which hosts the headquarters of the US 173d Airborne Brigade in Vicenza.

The woman is recovering at a local hospital and is not at risk of losing the baby according to doctors.

Lamarcus was also treated at the same medical centre after he attempted to commit suicide. He was later released. The soldier was already under investigation for another rape, this time of a 17-year-old student which happened eight months ago.

Major Michael Weisman, a spokesperson for the 173rd brigade, told IBTimes UK they were fully cooperating with Italian authorities in the investigation.

The incident has heightened tensions between the 3,000-strong US contingent in Vicenza and the local community who have often voiced discomfort at the soldiers' presence.

According to local press, US troopers have been involved in a series of incidents in recent years, including brawls, muggings and sexual abuses.

Under a Nato treaty the US can request its soldiers accused of an offence be tried by American rather than Italian authorities.

The practice is despised by a large section of Italian public who perceive US military courts as too soft on their troops.

Vicenza mayor Achille Variati has called for Lamarcus and McCough to be tried in Italy.

"The hypothesis that the US army demands the two soldiers who raped and beat a pregnant woman to be tried at home is unsustainable," he said.

Weisman said the US military asks host countries for the transfer of jurisdiction in all cases, regardless of the charges involved.

A request has been filed in Lamarcus and McCough's case but the Italian Ministry of Justice has the final say on the matter.

Fact box:

Italy hosts several Nato and US Military bases, including the famous air bases of Aviano, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Sigonella in Sicily.

Vicenza has been home to a contingent of US troops since the end of WWII.

Since 2000, the town has hosted the 173rd Airborne Brigade, the US conventional airborne strategic response force for Europe.

Some US 3,000 soldiers are garrisoned in two Italian military posts in the city, named Dal Molin and Ederle.