ROME — A Congolese asylum-hopeful with permission to stay in Italy for humanitarian reasons was nabbed aboard a train by police early Sunday as the last of a gang of four young males suspected of raping a Polish tourist on a beach, beating her companion unconscious and raping a Peruvian woman barely an hour later in the same Italian resort town of Rimini, authorities said.
The man, identified as Guerlin Butungu, 20, was the only adult among the four suspects under arrest in the brutal case that triggered calls from Poland for the death penalty for the culprits and fueled already growing anti-migrant sentiment in Italy, where hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers have been given shelter over the last few years after rescue at sea from migrant smugglers’ boats.
Rimini police Chief Maurizio Improta described Butungu’s arrest aboard a train at Rimini station. “The arrest this morning was doubly satisfying because putting the handcuffs on the fourth man were two women” police officers. “This symbolic gesture rendered justice to the victims of the violence,” he said.
Investigators were quoted as saying Butungu hoped to travel through Milan and then on to France to escape capture.
The three other suspects, all minors, were already in police custody Saturday night. Improta said two of them, Moroccan brothers, ages 15 and 17, who were born in Italy, turned themselves in at a police station after authorities released surveillance camera video showing images of the four suspects.
A 16-year-old Nigerian was detained by police in a nearby town Saturday night shortly after the two brothers began to talk to officers. All three minors were being held at a juvenile detention facility. Because they are minors, their names were not released.
Improta said with the arrest of the fourth suspect, “we consider the case closed.”
“All four of them were there that night,” Improta said, referring to the secluded stretch of beach where the Polish couple was assaulted.
The Peruvian woman, raped and beaten in some bushes along the side of a road, identified the suspects for authorities, police said.
Italian media said the Congolese man was taken in 2015 to a migrant centre on Lampedusa island, off Sicily, where many of those rescued at sea are first sheltered. The reports said authorities rejected his asylum bid but granted temporary permission to stay in Italy until 2018 on humanitarian grounds.
Carabinieri paramilitary police commander Marco Filoni in Pesaro, near Rimini, told SkyTG24 TV all three minors were known to local law enforcement. The ANSA news agency said their previous rap sheet included thefts, including of cellphones, but no violence.
Italy’s interior minister, Marco Minniti, thanked investigators for “turning over to justice, in brief time, the presumed culprits of such savage crimes.”
Shortly after the attacks, a Polish deputy justice minister said the attackers deserved the death penalty, which isn’t allowed in EU countries, like Italy and Poland, but later toned down the comments saying he only wanted to emphasize the cruelty of the crimes.
Italy’s welcome for so many asylum-seekers has lately grown thin. Right-wing and other populist politicians, with an eye to 2018 elections, have been whipping up anti-migrant sentiment.
The centre-left government has been struggling to push one of its key aims: a law to grant citizenship to immigrants’ children who are born in Italy and attend several years of Italian schools. The arrest of immigrant children like the Moroccans quickly bolstered opposition to that proposal.
“Is this the people we want to give away citizenship to” with such a law? asked Senate vice-president Roberto Calderoli, from the anti-migrant Northern League party.