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Italian police detain man suspected of shooting migrant worker dead

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Italian police detain man suspected of shooting migrant worker dead
A man protests after the death of Soumaila Sacko (pictured), a migrant worker in Calabria. Photo: Gianluca Chininea/AFP
12:20 CEST+02:00
Police in southern Italy have detained a local man who they suspect of shooting and killing a West African immigrant while he collected scrap metal, in a case that has highlighted the dire conditions faced by the region's thousands of migrant workers.

The suspect, named as Antonio Pontoriero from San Calogero in Calabria, is suspected of firing a shotgun on three Malian men as they scavenged for metal at an abandoned factory on Saturday night, hitting one of them in the head. That man, 29-year-old Soumaila Sacko, died from his injuries.

Pontoriero had been under investigation for several days but was taken into custody after police judged that he might try to flee, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Detailed descriptions provided by the survivors soon led to investigators to the 43-year-old, whose uncle had a stake in the former brick factory before it closed. The site was subsequently seized by police, who accuse several people, including Pontoriero's uncle, of illegally dumping hazardous waste there.

Pontoriero now faces charges of homicide and illegal possession of a firearm.

Despite early speculation that the shooting was racially motivated, police are not treating Sacko's death as a hate crime. Forensics and ballistics experts are still studying the trajectory of the four bullets fired, which will help investigators determine whether or not the shooter was aiming to kill.

READ MORE: Migrant workers in southern Italy strike after Malian man shot dead


Photo: Carlo Hermann/AFP

Sacko, who had permission to live and work in Italy, had been in the country since 2010 and was active in a grassroots trade union that campaigns for migrants' working rights. He and his companions lived in a tent city a few kilometres from the factory where he died, a sprawling shantytown that has been called "one of the biggest ghettoes in Italy".

It houses many of the several thousand migrant labourers who pick southern Italy's crops, often working for miserable wages and living without permanent shelter, electricity or running water.

After Sacko's death, his USB trade union called a one-day strike on Monday and activists joined migrants in a march through San Ferdinando, the town on the outskirts of which the tent city sprang up. The encampment is the result of violence between locals and migrants in early 2010, prompting many workers to flee.

Italy's new Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte included Sacko in his first speech to parliament this week, calling him "one of thousands of day labourers with correct immigration papers who every day in this country go to work in conditions below any level of dignity".

But his deputies, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini and Labour Minister Luigi Di Maio, were criticized for failing to comment on the case. As their opponents noted, Sacko was killed just hours after Salvini, a member of the anti-immigration League party, declared: "The party's over for illegals."

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Photo: Carmelo Lenzo/AFP

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