Italian police nab asylum seeker after tourist gang-raped on beach

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 September, 2017, 11:15pm

A Congolese man who was seeking asylum after being rescued at sea and taken to Italy in 2015 was arrested on a train early on Sunday as the last 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 resort town of Rimini, authorities said.

The man, identified as Guerlin Butungu, 20, was one four suspects under arrest in the brutal case that triggered calls from Poland for the death penalty for the culprits and fuelled already growing anti-immigrant sentiment in Italy, where hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers have been given shelter over the last few years after being rescued at sea from smugglers’ boats.

Rimini police Chief Maurizio Improta described Butungu’s arrest on a train passing through 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.”

Corriere della Sera daily reported that Butungu had a knife with him when captured. A few hours earlier, he had been spotted in a nearby Adriatic Sea resort town, Pesaro, riding a bicycle then fleeing into a park.

It said his mobile phone use helped investigators to track him down on the train. Investigators were quoted as saying Butungu hoped to travel through Milan and then on to France to escape capture.

The three other suspects were already in police custody on Saturday night. Improta said two of them – aged 15 and 17 and described as Moroccan brothers who were born in Italy – went on their own to a police station after authorities released surveillance video showing images of the four.

“They couldn’t handle the weight any more of how violent and dramatic their deed was,” the police chief said.

The third suspect, a 16-year-old Nigerian, was detained by police in a nearby town on Saturday night soon after the two brothers began to talk to police. The three younger suspects were being held at a juvenile detention facility until a judge rules over the next few days on whether to uphold their arrest.

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 were assaulted in their last hours of their holiday.

The Peruvian woman, raped and beaten in some bushes on the side of a road running through Rimini, identified the suspects for authorities, police said.

Italian media said the Congolese man, when rescued, was initially taken to a migrant centre on Italy’s Lampedusa island. The reports said authorities rejected his asylum bid but granted temporary permission to stay in Italy on humanitarian grounds.