Funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke abandoned in Italy after clashes with protesters

Hundreds shouted 'murderer' and 'executioner' as coffin arrived, as reports emerge that Germany may be persuaded to take the body

The funeral of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke had to be abandoned in Italy last night after right-wing sympathisers clashed with protesters.

As Priebke's coffin arrived for a funeral Mass, hundreds of people mobbed the hearse shouting "murderer" and "executioner".

With no Catholic church in Rome allowed to house the service, it was eventually taken on by a splinter Catholic group that opposes the Vatican's outreach to Jews.

Protesters even targeted a priest arriving at the gates, shouting "shame" and rushing police lines.

Priebke's lawyer, Paolo Giachini, said the funeral did not take place "because authorities did not allow people to enter who wanted to come in. Everything was ready. We were waiting for those who should have arrived to participate."

The question turned today to what will be done with the body, with both Priebke's hometown in Germany and his home for fifty years in Argentina refusing to take him.

The BBC carried reports from Italian local media which suggest the coffin has been taken to an airport, and Italian officials said they had made contact with their German counterparts.

Mr Giachini complained that the funeral could not take place in Italy, with relatives of Priebke ready to attend.

They included Priebke's son Ingo, other lawyers in Mr Giachini's firm, and some younger, right-wing sympathisers, he said.

"They were there for a religious ceremony. They didn't have banners or other political manifestations," Mr Giachini said.

The casket remained inside and Mr Giachini said he did not know what would happen next.

He said he was handing over responsibility for future decisions to the family and expressed disappointment at the "indignities" that prevented the ceremony.

Since Priebke's death on Friday aged 100, debate has raged over what to do with his remains.

Pope Francis's vicar for Rome refused him a funeral in a Catholic Church and Rome's police chief backed him, citing concerns for public order.

Priebke participated in one of the worst massacres in German-occupied Italy during the Second World War, the slaughter of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome.

Tensions have been high ever since he died and left behind an interview in which he denied Jews were gassed in the Holocaust.

No one appeared ready to handle Priebke's service, until the Society of St Pius X in the city of Albano Laziale south of Rome stepped forward.

The society, known for the anti-Semitic views of some of its members, celebrates the pre-Vatican II old Latin Mass. Where Priebke will be buried remains unresolved.

In a statement, the society said it agreed to perform the funeral at the family's request because "no matter what the guilt or sins" anyone who dies reconciled with God and the Church "has the right to celebrate Mass and a funeral".

One of the society's disgraced members is Bishop Richard Williamson, who made headlines in 2009 when he denied that any Jews were killed in gas chambers during the Holocaust.

Priebke espoused the same views. In a final interview released by his lawyer upon his death, Priebke denied the Nazis gassed Jews and accused the West of inventing such crimes to cover up atrocities committed by the Allies during the war.

He spent nearly 50 years as a fugitive before being extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1995 to stand trial for the 1944 massacre. He died in the Rome home of Mr Giachini, where he had been serving his life term under house arrest.

Priebke admitted shooting two people and rounding up victims of the massacre, but insisted he was only following orders.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the round up of Jews from Rome's ghetto for the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press

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