Family of Nazi Erich Priebke 'wants his body back'

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionProtesters gather to show their anger at Erich Priebke's funeral procession

The family of Erich Priebke, a Nazi war criminal who died under house arrest in Rome last week aged 100, has demanded the return of his body.

His coffin was seized by the Italian authorities and taken to a military base near Rome after a funeral was halted amid angry protests.

Priebke was extradited from Argentina and jailed for life in Italy over the 1944 killing of 335 civilians.

Italian media say his body could be kept at the airport for the time being.

A funeral in Albano Laziale, south of Rome, was called off on Tuesday following scuffles between protesters and Nazi sympathisers.

A senior official in Rome province, Giuseppe Pecoraro, was quoted on Wednesday as saying Italian authorities had "initiated contacts with Germany."

Argentina - where Priebke lived for nearly 50 years before being extradited to Italy - has refused his wish to have his body repatriated, to be buried next to his wife.

And Priebke's hometown in Germany has also refused to take the body, over fears that any place of burial could become a pilgrimage site for neo-Nazis.

A spokesman for the German foreign ministry said he knew of no laws preventing a German who had died abroad from being buried in Germany, but that it was normally "a matter for the relatives" to decide.

'Neo-Nazi risk'

Priebke died on Friday, aged 100.

Image caption In a video released after his death, Erich Priebke maintained that he was following orders from Hitler

He was one of the SS officers overseeing the killing of men and boys at Rome's Ardeatine Caves in March 1944, one of the worst massacres in Italy during World War II.

In a reprisal for the killing of 33 German soldiers in Rome by resistance fighters, 335 Italian civilians were shot dead.

Though Priebke admitted his role in the massacre, he never expressed any remorse and maintained he was following orders.

In a video message taped before he died - and released posthumously by his lawyer - the former SS officer repeated his defence at his trial for war crimes.

He said he had received direct orders from Adolf Hitler to carry out the massacre.

Priebke was extradited in 1994 after investigative journalists from US television network ABC News tracked him down in Argentina.

In 1998, he was sentenced to life in prison. However, he pleaded that he was too old and sick for jail, and was soon allowed to switch to a regime of house arrest.

The Vatican had issued an unprecedented ban on holding Priebke's funeral in any Catholic church in Rome, but a Catholic splinter group, the Society of St Pius X, offered to hold the ceremony.

As the coffin was taken to the Society's seminary in Albano Laziale on Wednesday, protesters clashed with Nazi sympathisers as his coffin passed.

"We had to cancel the funeral yesterday because there was a risk that it could have become a neo-Nazi demonstration," said Mr Pecoraro.

More on this story