An Italian police officer accidentally shot dead a football fan today while trying to break up a clash with supporters of another club at a motorway rest stop, a police chief said.
Arezzo Police Chief Vincenzo Giacobbe said the officer intervened in a scuffle between two groups of people he had not yet identified as soccer fans.
“I express deep sorrow and sincere condolences to the family of the victim,” Giacobbe said, describing the incident as “a tragic error.”
Gabriele Sandri, a 26-year-old disc jockey from Rome, was hit in the neck by a bullet while in a car at the rest area along the A1Autostrada near the town of Arezzo, about 125 miles north of Rome. The fans were heading to Lazio’s match at Inter Milan.
Arezzo police, reading a statement, said police in two patrol cars, who had stopped on the opposite side of the highway for an unrelated check of vehicles, turned on their sirens when they “heard yelling, screaming” and realised the occupants of three cars in the rest area were fighting.
“They turned on their sirens,” but the clash continued, the police said. “One of the (officers) decided to fire two shots in the air to try to intimidate them.”
“At that point the cars moved” to return to the highway, the police said. One of the vehicles “with five occupants, took a shot, which hit the young man in the neck,” the statement said.
The car drove a few miles to the nearest exit and asked for help, but the fan had been mortally shot, and an ambulance crew failed to revive him, police said.
They described the officer who fired the shots as a veteran but didn’t provide the officer’s name, and, adding that the case was under investigation, refused to answer questions.
Sandri’s brother, Cristiano Sandri, gestured angrily as he yelled “they killed my brother.”
Flanking him as he got into a car was a man described by Sky TG24 TV as the family’s lawyer, who repeatedly said that the shooting amounted to “first-degree murder.”
Sky quoted witnesses as saying the other two cars were vans carrying Juventus fans from Naples to a match in Parma.
The Italian football federation postponed the Inter-Lazio game to a date to be determined.
This afternoon’s other games started 10 minutes late, with players and referees wearing black armbands.
After a meeting with national security officials, AS Roma’s late match against visiting Cagliari was postponed, Sky reported.
Sports Minister Giovanna Melandri said “the death of the young fan is an immense tragedy.”
Clashes between rival fans at rest stops are common in Italy.
Premier Romano Prodi was attending Mass when he was informed by Italy’s interior minister about the death. He described the fan violence as “very worrisome.”
The death prompted clashes between fans and police in Bergamo, where AC Milan was playing Atalanta. The match was stopped after seven minutes when Atalanta fans tried to break through a barrier and storm onto the field.
Last season, a policeman was killed in riots following a game between Palermo and Catania in Sicily. Under new anti-violence measures this season, some fans have been barred from traveling to games.
In 2004, the derby between AS Roma and Lazio was suspended three minutes into the second half when a false rumour spread through the stadium that police had killed a boy outside the stadium, sparking riots.
Enraged by the killing, a mob of fans in Rome attacked a police barracks across the Tiber from the Stadio Olimpico tonight, police said.
Armed with rocks and clubs, and with their faces covered, the fans entered the station and also smashed windows, burned cars and wrecked motorcycles and scooters parked in the area, two Italian news agencies said.
Sky TG24 showed images of flames from what it said was a bus set afire near the barracks. APcom said passengers of a bus that was blocked by the rioting were evacuated and given shelter in the lobby of a building near the barracks.
Rome’s police headquarters said the barracks were under attack but declined to give details saying it was still receiving reports from the field.