A Lebanese-born Palestinian was charged Tuesday with an attempted massacre in a grenade attack that injured 38 people, including nine Americans, at a fashionable sidewalk cafe.
The suspect, caught running away after a grenade exploded Monday night at the Cafe de Paris on the Via Veneto, was identified by the police as Ahmed Hossein abu Sereya, 27, who was born in the Palestine refugee camp of Borj al Brajne near Beirut.
“For us, he’s the man,” Rome Police Chief Marcello Monarca said, adding that others may have been involved.
Eight of the injured Americans were released from hospitals after being treated for cuts, according to a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy. He said the one American still hospitalized Tuesday night “was never in grave or very serious condition,” and should be released soon.
‘La Dolce Vita’
The outdoor cafe, which was used as a set in the 1960 film, “La Dolce Vita,” is a popular nighttime gathering place for tourists. It was crowded with Europeans, Americans, Latin Americans and Italians when the grenade exploded.
From the accounts of some of the victims, it appeared that at least two attackers were involved, because several said they heard two or three gunshots an instant before two grenades were thrown at dinners. Only one grenade exploded; the second was later identified by police as a Soviet-made F-1 fragmentation grenade.
“All I remember is I heard three shots,” said Manuel Villaverde, 52, a Spanish architect who lives in Argentina and is in Rome on holiday. “I told my wife to throw herself to the ground and I threw myself on top of her.
“My wife said she saw a dark car pass just before the incident and the shooting seemed to come from the street. I think they shot to get people to stand up so they could get more with the grenades.”
In addition to the nine Americans, the injured included five Argentines, including the first secretary at the Argentine Embassy here, as well as Italians, Britons and Spaniards.
No Motive Seen
The police said they could provide no motive for the attack, and no organization claimed responsibility, but the Rome police chief added that “we have several ideas as to the motive and are examining them.”
Police sources suggested that the attack could be related to demands by several Mideast organizations that Italy release seven Lebanese who were indicted last November for plotting to blow up the U.S. Embassy here. The embassy is about 100 yards from the Cafe de Paris.
The embassy spokesman said: “We don’t think it was a deliberate attack against Americans or any other group. There wasn’t one big group of tourists but lots of small groups of different nationalities who were there by chance.”
He said the embassy has a list of the Americans injured in the attack, but the victims asked U.S. consular officers to withhold their names.
Only one victim, the cafe’s chef, who was waiting on tables at the time of the attack, was gravely hurt, according to doctors at San Giacomo Hospital in central Rome.
According to the police and an Arabic-speaking Italian reporter who talked to Sereya after he was charged, the suspect denied that he was involved in the attack.
The police said Sereya told them he was a tourist. They said he carried a false Moroccan passport and an airline ticket that showed he had arrived from Damascus via Vienna on Aug. 25.
The Rome office of the Palestinian Liberation Organization condemned the bombing and denied all responsibility.