A police officer accidentally shot and killed an Italian football fan today, during a clash between Lazio and Juventus supporters.
The incident, believed to have happened in a lay-by in Tuscany, later sparked riots 125 miles away in Rome, as enraged fans attacked a police station near Stadio Olimpico.
Gabriele Sandri, a 26-year-old DJ from Rome, was hit in the neck by a bullet while in a car on the A1 Autostrada road near the town of Arezzo, north of Rome. The fans were heading to Lazio’s match at Inter Milan.
In Rome, hundreds of youths dragged metal barricades and bins to block off one end of a bridge spanning the Tiber near the stadium, stormed the yard of a police station when a gate was opened for a shift change of squad cars and hurled stones at passing police cars.
They also smashed windows in an attack on the nearby Italian Olympic Committee headquarters near the stadium in the Italian capital, AP photographer Andrew Medichini reported from the scene.
With their faces covered by scarves and ski masks, the rioters set fire to a bin at the edge of the bridge, smashed traffic lights and yelled to motorists to turn around and leave the area as the youths roamed the streets, Medichini said. The rioters smashed a window in the police station and set a police vehicle on fire inside the gate.
The stadium was largely empty after security officials in Rome decided to cancel a night match between Roma and Cagliari because of fears the Tuscan shooting would enflame fans.
Lazio is a Rome team.
Sky TG24 showed images of flames from what it said was a bus set on fire 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 that the barracks was under attack but declined to give details saying it was still receiving reports from the field. It said some arrests were made but the number was not immediately available.
Ansa reported that at least 10 police officers suffered injuries near the Rome stadium, but police said there only a few injuries and they were minor.
RAI state TV, reporting from the stadium, said one of its cameramen was injured as well as a cameraman for a private network.
In the Tuscan town of 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”.
Arezzo police, reading a statement, said police in two patrol cars who had stopped on the opposite side of the road 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 road, 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 fatally 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 soccer 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.
Italy’s sports minister, Giovanna Melandri, said “the death of the young fan is an immense tragedy.”
Sky TG24 TV quoted witnesses as saying the other group comprised fans of the Turin club Juventus, who were travelling in two vans from Naples to Parma for the Parma-Juventus match.
Clashes between rival fans are fairly common in Italy.
The country’s leader 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 travelling 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.