A gunman opened fire outside the prime minister's office in Rome, wounding two police officers – one seriously – as Enrico Letta, pictured, and his new cabinet were being sworn in at the presidential palace just under a mile away.
Luigi Preiti, a 49-year-old from Rosarno in the southern region of Calabria, allegedly told prosecutors he wanted to "shoot the politicians".
"He is a man with a lot of problems. He lost his job, he lost everything . . . he was desperate. He wanted to shoot the politicians but since he could not reach them he shot at the police," said Pierfilippo Laviani, a Rome prosecutor who interrogated the alleged gunman after his arrest yesterday afternoon.
Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno said it was the "gesture of a madman" but added Italy's current economic problems and political climate might have contributed to the shooting.
"It's not an act of terrorism but certainly the climate of the past few months has not helped," Mr Alemanno said.
Witnesses said Mr Preiti, who was dressed in a jacket and tie, approached police stationed outside the 16th Century Chigi Palace just after 11.30am yesterday, shouting "shoot me, shoot me" before pulling out a gun and firing at them. A witness said officers fell "like bowling pins".
One police officer was shot in the neck and was in a serious condition last night, while another was shot in the leg. Police exchanged fire with the gunman before detaining him.
Mr Preiti's brother, Arcangelo, told Italian media that Mr Preiti was fine when he last saw him and had no history of mental illness.
"We are shocked, we do not know how to explain what could have happened . . . sometimes the human mind goes haywire," he said.
Mr Preiti was born in Calabria and lived in Egypt for several years, where he is believed to have met his wife, with whom he has a son aged 11.
He returned to Italy in the 1990s. After he and his wife separated two years ago, he returned to Calabria.
Media reports claimed he and his wife were now divorced, and that he was struggling with an internet poker addiction.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)