About 10 Britons taken to hospital after being set upon by large band of Italians wielding iron bars, paving stones and knives
Questions were being asked on Thursday night about how Italian police failed to prevent a bloody and unprovoked attack on Tottenham Hotspur football fans in one of Rome's most heavily frequented – and policed – squares.
A British embassy spokesman said "nine or 10" Britons were taken to hospital after being set upon in a bar late on Wednesday night by a much larger band of Italians wielding iron bars, paving stones, spanners, knives and other weapons. Some of the assailants were masked or wore motorcycle crash helmets that covered their features, witnesses said.
At least two of the injured were being kept in hospital overnight, one of them with serious head wounds.
Several local residents told Italian media they heard screams of "Jews" during the attacks. Tottenham Hotspur FC, with its roots in north London, has long had a large Jewish following. Rome's mayor, Gianni Alemanno, said an antisemitic motive would "heighten the gravity of the attack", which he described as "terrible and disgusting". There were reports of antisemitic chanting during Thursday night's Europa League fixture with Lazio which ended in a goalless draw.
Standing with a pint of beer in his hand in the cobbled Campo de' Fiori square where the attack took place, David Phillips from Kettering, Northamptonshire, said the Tottenham fans had decided to travel to the stadium in large groups. "Everyone's going to stay together so they can't pick us off individually," he said. "We're going to the Metro and we're going to stay there until there are at least 100 of us and then go up to the ground."
Campo de' Fiori is a favourite haunt of foreign, mainly young tourists, which has often been the scene of fights and drunken rampages. Phillips said he had been in the square on Wednesday evening before the ambush was sprung. "There was police everywhere. Where did the police go?" he asked.
The Drunken Ship, where the violence took place, is in a corner of the cobbled square, which also hosts an open-air market. On Thursday afternoon, as workmen picked shattered glass from the doors and piled broken chairs in a corner, a co-owner of the bar, Roberto Mastrangelo, said: "Anything they found they destroyed. It was like a bull charge.
"They must have known the police leave the square at 1am or 1.30am on weekdays. They arrived just after they left."
But a fellow-owner, Raffaele Manzi, who returned to the Drunken Ship just as the assailants were fleeing, said a patrol car of the municipal police was still parked nearby. He indicated a spot about 15 metres from the entrance, adding: "But there were only two officers, and they couldn't have done anything to stand up to such a large number."
Manzi said he saw about 40 attackers. Other witnesses spoke of up to 100.
Rome's municipal police force is mostly charged with controlling the traffic and enforcing bylaws. But, like other Italian law enforcement agents, its officers carry firearms.
Another witness, Giuseppe Tamborro, told the newspaper, Corriere della Sera: "The Italians were very organised. They had helmets, iron bars, balaclava helmets. Some had their faces uncovered. The British were fewer – very few."
He saw four people lying on the ground after the attack. One had a scar across his forehead. "They had split him open with an aluminium stool taken from the bar", he said. The most seriously injured Briton, named by the embassy as Ashley Mills, was said to be conscious and in a satisfactory condition despite having lost large quantities of blood.
Sources at the San Camillo hospital said he had a deep head wound, which had required 20 stitches, and another injury to the thigh.
At the Santo Spirito hospital by the river Tiber, the director of medical services, Franco Angelini, said one of three Britons admitted following the attack was being kept in for observation for a second night. He had compound fractures in one foot and less serious head injuries.
The raid was initially blamed on Lazio supporters. The club's Ultras are notorious for their far-right associations.
On more than one occasion, antisemitic banners – some with references to Auschwitz – have been unfurled before matches in the north stands, the Curva Nord, which they control.
But the first reported arrest was of a rival AS Roma fan, prompting speculation the operation was the product of a temporary pact between neo-fascist supporters of more than one side.
Lazio said in a statement there was no basis for linking its fans to the incident. Six people were being questioned by police. One was reported to have been detained after boasting about the raid on a bus. The driver of the bus photographed him and then informed the police.
The attack is a grave embarrassment to mayor Alemanno, a former member of Italy's neo-fascist movement who was elected as the candidate of Silvio Berlusconi's Freedom People party. A group of his supporters celebrated his victory in 2008 by giving straight-arm salutes on the steps of Rome's city hall.
His opponents seized on Wednesday night's raid to claim Alemanno, who was elected on a law-and-order ticket, had failed to deliver on his campaign promises.
Additional reporting: Sean Wyer
Italy's picturesque capital has often been a dangerous place for visiting British football fans. In 1997, violence flared during an Italy-England World Cup qualifier. Several England supporters said they had been arrested afterwards and beaten by police into signing false confessions.Their allegations prompted a call from the British government for a report on the policing of the match and its aftermath.
In 2006, three Middlesbrough fans were stabbed and 10 others injured in clashes with Roma supporters before a Uefa Cup tie.
The following year, police charged into Manchester United fans after an exchange of missiles before a Champions League game with Roma. At least 18 United fans and two Roma supporters were taken to hospital.
In December 2007, the two sets of fans clashed on a bridge near Rome's Olympic Stadium. Four United fans were arrested and five others stabbed in the fray.