Two migrants have been assaulted and robbed by a gang of Sicilian youths in what police fear is a retribution attack for the murder of two pensioners, allegedly at the hands of a would-be refugee, in the small town of Palagonia.
Tensions have soared in the small farming community, located near Catania, after 18-year-old Ivorian Mamadou Kamara, who was satying at the nearby Mineo reception camp for migrants, was arrested over the murder of Vincenzo Solano, 68, and his wife Mercedes Ibanez, 70.
Hundreds of people flocked a local church for the funerals of the couple, who police believe were killed during a robbery gone wrong. Kamara is accused of slashing Solano's throat before throwing Ibanez to her death from a balcony. Police said an initial forensics examination suggest she was also sexually abused.
Detectives were quick in arresting Kamara, who arrived in Italy on a boat from Libya in June and asked for asylum. Evidence against him appears crushing. He was stopped during a routine control at the Cara Mineo a former US military base immersed in orange groves turned into Europe's largest migrant holding camp, hosting 3,200 people from Eritrea, Sudan, Nigeria, Gambia, Liberia, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and elsewhere.
A search of his bag revealed a video camera, a mobile phone, a PC, a gold chain and other goods all belonging to the murdered couple. The bag also contained a pair of blood-stained trousers, which Kamara sported in pictures retrieved by his mobile phone. At the time of the arrest he was wearing clothes taken from the victims' wardrobe.
Kamara denies the accusations, claiming he found the bag abandoned in a garbage can off a street.
Solano's daughter, Rosita, a 46-year-old school teacher, said she blames the government for the murder. "They let these migrants come here and they do what they want, including burgling and killing," she said, adding that politicians were not welcome at the funerals.
The double murder was quickly seized upon by right-wing parties. Northern League leader Matteo Salvini echoed Rosita's words, saying the government was the sole responsible, while Giorgia Meloni, of Fratelli d'Italia, said lax controls at the Mineo Centre had allowed the couple be "slaughtered like goats". Far-right movement Forza Nuova is due to hold a demonstration in Palagonia at the weekend.
Prime minister Matteo Renzi sent his condolences and vowed stiff punishments for those responsible, but also urged calm. "Who has done wrong must pay, but we shouldn't lose our ways," he said.
His words apparently fell on deaf ears in the case of three young Sicilians held by police. They are accused of attacking two migrants from Gambia who were cycling back to the Mineo Centre, Il Corriere della Sera reported. Armed with a gun the youth stopped the pair of would-be refugees, and brutally beat them up, sending one to the hospital.
Meanwhile more than 250 new migrants arrived in Italy today (2 September). More than 110,000 have reached the country since the beginning of the year.