US teen in Italian police murder ‘didn’t know friend was armed’

The father of a US teen arrested in Rome over the killing of an Italian police officer said on Thursday his son didn't know his friend was carrying a knife.

US teen in Italian police murder 'didn't know friend was armed'

Gabriel Natale Hjorth, 18, has been charged with aggravated homicide along with his friend Finnegan Elder, 19, following the death of officer Mario Cerciello Rega, who was stabbed to death in a botched drug bust last week.

Elder has confessed to stabbing Cerciello, 35, with a US Marine partially-serrated, close-quarters combat knife, according to Italian police.He reportedly said he mitook the plain-clothes officer for a dangerous drug dealer and used the weapon in self-defence.

READ ALSO: 'Terrible affair which cannot go unpunished': Italy mourns murdered police officer

“Gabriel didn't know his friend was armed. He only found out what happened, that the officer had died, after his arrest,” Fabrizio Natale told the Corriere della Sera daily after visiting his son in Rome's Regina Coeli jail.

Elder was carrying the knife on his person, and police said it was “impossible” Natale did not know he had it.

“The meeting was emotional but very hard for both of us. He's in a bad state,” Fabrizio Natale said after seeing his son.

“Always with us”: mourners carry a photo of murdered officer Rega at his funeral. Photo: Eliano Imperato/AFP

The 18-year-old is alleged to have held Cerciello's partner Andrea Varriale down during the attack in Rome's upmarket Prati neighbourhood, and possibly hidden the murder weapon afterwards.

“I share the pain of the officer's family. But I am convinced my son is innocent,” Natale said.

The teen spent the hour-long meeting with his father in tears, the Corriere said.

Natale brought his son a copy of Ernest Hemingway's novel “The Old Man and the Sea” and an Italian-English dictionary, but was forbidden to give him the latter as it was a hardback with corners considered too sharp to be safe, the daily reported.

He was allowed to hand over bread and cold cuts, but not toothpaste, deodorant, an electric toothbrush, or a large towel considered a hanging risk, it added.

The two Californian teens had been drinking when the attack took place, and Elder was also on prescription drugs, police said.

Cerciello and Varriale had been tasked with intercepting the pair after an intermediary on a drug deal reported them to the police for stealing his bag after they were sold aspirin in the place of cocaine.

The teens have accused each other of being the one to have hidden the hastily-cleaned knife, which has an 18-centimetre (seven-inch) blade, in the false ceiling of their hotel room.

Police returned to the room on Wednesday to dust the ceiling for prints.

READ ALSO: US suspect blindfolded during questioning over Italian policeman's murder

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Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.