Arrest of arson suspect in Rome fails to halt attacks

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Police in Rome have arrested a man they say has admitted setting fire to cars in Rome. But any hope the city's motorists might have had of getting a good night's rest were dashed when three more cars went up in flames the night after he was arrested.

More than 200 cars and motorcycles have been destroyed in the current epidemic, which began at the end of June and has now struck many of the city's inner suburbs.

Gianluca Rosiello, 26, was arrested at his home after his black Opel car was seen speeding away from a burning vehicle earlier in the week. Witnesses noted the number on the registration plate and reported it to police. The city's prefect, Achille Serra, hailed their action as just the sort of citizens' initiative required to bring the problem to a halt. "Romans have got the message of collaboration," he said.

Mr Rosiello, who has a job in an undertaker's business and has a few minor criminal convictions, was sitting on his terrace eating a watermelon when police arrived. In the boot of his car they found a jerrycan with traces of petrol and a rubber tube. But other arsonists remain at large: the witnesses who saw the car claimed that there were "at least four people" in it.

Police say Mr Rosiello has confessed. "Yes, it was me who set those cars on fire," he was quoted as saying, "but only those two. I don't know why I did it, it was idiotic. But I had no involvement in any of the others." Police declined to say whether Mr Rosiello had given them the names of his supposed accomplices.

The task of identifying those responsible for the attacks is made more difficult by the time of year. While cars are parked as usual on every centimetre of every kerb, in the month of August most people are out of the city on the traditional summer holiday, turning Rome into a ghost town. Witnesses to any crime are few and far between.

Rome's Mayor, Walter Veltroni, announced that he was setting up a "solidarity fund" to give financial help to victims of the arsonists. "We will in particular help the weaker social classes," he said, "seeing that insurance often does not cover this type of damage."