An Italian man who the authorities say hurled racist abuse at a Nigerian couple and beat the husband when he came to his wife’s defense was charged on Thursday with manslaughter, after the husband died from his injuries.
People left flowers on Thursday at memorial in Fermo, Italy, that marked the spot where Emmanuel Chidi Namdi was beaten.© Cristiano Chiodi/European Pressphoto Agency People left flowers on Thursday at memorial in Fermo, Italy, that marked the spot where Emmanuel Chidi Namdi was beaten.
The victims are believed to have fled Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has conducted a murderous rampage across West Africa, and to have reached Italy by boat. A Roman Catholic priest was sheltering them while they applied for asylum.
The authorities called the attack a serious hate crime. It has horrified Italians and prompted soul-searching in a country that has been struggling to cope with an influx of refugees.
According to the authorities, the suspect, Amedeo Mancini, 39, accosted the couple — Emmanuel Chidi Namdi, 36, and his wife, who was identified as Chinyery Emmanuel, 24 — while they were strolling on Tuesday afternoon on a street in Fermo, a town of about 37,000 in the central Italian region of Marche, near the Adriatic coast.
Mr. Mancini started verbally harassing them and, in the scuffle that ensued, Mr. Namdi fell, hitting his head. He entered a coma, and died on Wednesday night.
Prosecutors said on Thursday they would charge Mr. Mancini with manslaughter, aggravated by racist motives.
The attack has prompted a nationwide reaction. On Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi telephoned the Rev. Vinicio Albanesi, the priest who was hosting the couple at a seminary, to offer condolences. On Thursday morning, Mr. Renzi said on Twitter that the government was determined to fight “hate, racism, and violence,” and used the hashtag #Emmanuel to honor the victim.
Italy’s interior minister, Angelino Alfano, presided over a hastily convened meeting with the local authorities in Fermo.
“It’s a very sad day for the community of Fermo,” Mr. Alfano told reporters. “The great heart of Italy is not represented by the man who committed this homicide.”
“We are here to discourage a phenomenon of national contagion,” Mr. Alfano insisted. “The germ of racism needs to be cut off before it can plant its poisonous seed.” He said the victim’s widow, Ms. Emmanuel, would be granted humanitarian protection in Italy, allowing her to stay in the country, at least for now.
Italy’s fractious political parties joined together to condemn the attack.
Even the leader of the anti-migrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, said on Twitter that he would pray for Mr. Namdi.
“Those who kill, rape or attack another human being need to be punished,” Mr. Salvini said. “Regardless of skin color.”
Investigators are still trying to piece together what happened. A lawyer for Mr. Mancini said his client was acting in self-defense, but Ms. Emmanuel said her husband reacted only after Mr. Mancini verbally abused them and grabbed her arm. After Mr. Namdi fell, his attacker continued to beat him, she told members of the Catholic seminary of Capodarco, where she and her husband were living.
The seminary described her ordeal on its website. The couple had been living in the seminary for eight months, after fleeing violence perpetrated by Boko Haram that had claimed the lives of their parents and son. The husband and wife crossed Niger and then Libya, enduring such hardship that Ms. Emmanuel miscarried soon after arriving in Italy.
In Fermo, the couple were living with 128 other migrants and asylum seekers. In January, they were married in a local church, having lost their papers from Nigeria, according to Father Albanesi.
“Of course people here are not used to migrants,” Father Albanesi said in a phone interview. “It’s a town of immigration, but it’s a tranquil area, certainly not racist. This episode is the result of the freedom to express hate and aggression that some people have started taking on social media and elsewhere, and that needs to be stopped.”
Mr. Mancini and a man who was with him — who tried to intervene in the altercation, and has not been charged — were known as troublemakers in the community, Father Albanesi said, adding, “But they are not organized, the community is not with them.”
Mr. Mancini had a criminal record — at one point he had been barred from attending soccer matches — but not a serious one, the authorities said.
In recent months, tensions in the area had increased, with three small bombs detonated at churches where migrants were housed. (One of the bombs caused slight damage to a church door; no one was hurt.) Father Albanesi said the violence seemed to be associated with a small group of men who were known for causing trouble at soccer matches and espoused racist beliefs.
“There are small groups of people who feel they belong to the Aryan race,” he said. “They are part of the same group that set the bombs in front of our churches.”
Paolo Calcinaro, the mayor of Fermo, said in a televised interview that the attack did not represent his neighbors. “This is not Fermo,” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “We are a welcoming community.”
Italy has been grappling for over a decade with an influx of migrants who have reached its southern shores. Since January, 76,809 migrants have arrived in Italy from North Africa, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, via Libya, where the political situation is chaotic. Only in the past week, Italian and international rescue officials have saved more than 10,000 people at sea.
As neighboring countries like Austria threaten to close their borders, and with aid programs struggling to keep up, Italian charities and grass-roots organizations have sprouted to help the migrants. Some 132,500 migrants are currently registered — a sharp increase from 103,700 at the end of last year, and 66,000 at the end of 2014.
In Italy, it can take years for a final decision on an asylum application.
Goffredo Buccini, a commentator in the newspaper Corriere della Sera, on Thursday lamented the tragedy of a man who “escaped the Islamist folly of Boko Haram” only to be “murdered by a local racist,” calling the attack “nauseating.”
“There is no horror that can stop the fear of the other when this fear becomes blind stupidity,” Mr. Buccini wrote in an editorial, adding that racists were depicting migrants “as those who are taking food away from us” when the opposite is true, since many migrants work and pay taxes.
“All of this is poison,” he wrote. “May Emmanuel and his story teach us to recognize it, and help us find at least an antidote.”