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American teenagers held in Rome over murder of policeman

The pair are being detained in jail while the investigation continues.

Flowers and messages left by citizens on the spot where Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death (Andrew Medichini/AP/PA)
Flowers and messages left by citizens on the spot where Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed to death (Andrew Medichini/AP/PA)

Two young American tourists have been arrested over the murder of an Italian policeman.

A detention order issued by prosecutors names the two suspects as Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth, 18, and Finnegan Lee Elder, 19. Both were born in San Francisco.

In the detention order, Elder is described as being suspected of repeatedly stabbing Carabinieri paramilitary police officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, several times on Friday.

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Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth (Italian Carabinieri/AP)

Investigators said Mr Cerciello Rega, along with a fellow Carabinieri officer, were both in plain clothes when they confronted two Americans in the wake of a failed drug deal.

The other American was described in the document as attacking Mr Cerciello Rega’s partner repeatedly with his bare hands. The partner, who was not seriously injured, has been described as a key witness in the investigation.

Under Italian law, persons participating in a killing, without actually carrying it out, risk also being charged with murder.

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Mario Cerciello Rega was stabbed several times during the incident on Friday (AP)

Both suspects are also being investigated for attempted extortion connected to the alleged drug deal.

Elder’s lawyer, Francesco Codini, told reporters that his client had exercised his right not to respond to questions during a detention hearing on Saturday in the Rome jail where the two teenagers are being held.

Natale Hjorth’s lawyer did not speak to reporters waiting outside the jail after the hearing.

An unnamed Italian investigator claimed the pair had snatched the bag of a drug dealer in Rome after the man apparently gave them a different substance instead of the cocaine they were seeking.

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Elder’s lawyer Francesco Codini, centre, spoke to waiting to reporters following a hearing in the case in Rome (Dolores Hinckley/AP)

The Carabinieri said the Americans demanded a 100 euro (£90) ransom and a gram of cocaine to return the stolen bag.

The alleged dealer called police, saying he had arranged a meeting with the thieves to get his bag back.

Police say there was a scuffle at the rendezvous site and the policeman was stabbed eight times, dying shortly afterwards in hospital.

The Carabinieri said video surveillance cameras and witnesses allowed them to quickly identify the two Americans and find them in a hotel near the scene of the killing.

In a search, the Carabinieri said they found a long knife, possibly the one used to attack Mr Cerciello Rega.

PA

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