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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
'Venice vandal' held by police
Damaged motif of St Peter at the Church of San Pietro di Castello
The attacks have prompted calls for additional security
Officials in Venice say a mentally ill man was to blame for the mysterious attacks on religious statues at some of the city's most famous landmarks.

A 15th Century statue of Moses on the facade of the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco was one of several statues vandalised between Saturday and Monday.

Italian news reports said 38-year-old Venetian engineer Antonio Benacchio had been identified as the culprit.

Rai TV said he was not arrested, but was taken to hospital for treatment.

Mayor Paolo Costa had previously called the attacks the work of an "isolated lunatic".

"We quickly realised that these were abnormal actions which weren't carried out with the intention of stealing," said Venice prosecutor Francesco Saverio Pavone at a press conference.

"The pieces were destroyed and this strange behaviour was what led us to think these were the actions of a mentally disturbed person," he was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying.

Security fears

Police said Mr Benacchio - who was detained after a search of his home - acted alone.

On Sunday, witnesses reported seeing a man with a hammer climb a decorated column at the Doge's Palace in the Piazza San Marco.

Officials found the arms on the historic statue of Moses - on a motif depicting the handover of the Ten Commandments - had been smashed.

They discovered that other statues in the city had also been damaged.

Among them were two statues of St Francis and St Mark on the facade of the Church of the Redeemer; a sculpted 14th Century motif representing St Peter at the Church of San Pietro di Castelli; and a statuette representing the Virgin Mary, also near the same church.

The incident has prompted calls for additional security to protect the city's many treasures.

The BBC's David Willey
"The public have been asked to be vigilant"

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