The Italian Almanac

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Scaring the Ninja

Two elderly Italian farmers have ended the reign of terror of a bow-and-arrow-wielding Russian 'ninja' bandit who spread fear across northeastern Italy for weeks. Police had been vainly scouring the countryside for the black-clad villain, his head wrapped in a black bandana, a powerful bow in one hand and a knife strapped behind one leg. The sinister figure struck isolated farms at dusk, forcing farmers to hand over cash and valuables at arrow-point. Victims were usually so afraid that they didn't report the attack until the next day.

The ninja's spree ended after his sixth raid, when the feisty oldsters gave him more than he'd bargained for after he smashed down a door and leaped into their house. Undaunted by the fearsome intruder, 73-year-old Luigi Zampieri started shouting at him to get out. His brother Giovanni, 71, ran down the stairs with his hunting rifle and took a tumble on the last step that let off a shot, scaring the ninja off. "The fellow took fright and ran away, slipping on the broken glass from the door, then hopped on a bicycle and went hell-for-leather through the cornfields, riding his bike as if it were a horse," Giovanni said. "I took another potshot at him for good measure. In situations like that you get all your old strength back".

Police raced to the scene and trailed the robber to an abandoned farmhouse where he gave himself up without a fight. As well as his bow and knife, police found three daggers in a knapsack along with a night scope he used to scout targets and a head-torch for breaking into unlit premises. The man was identified as Igor Vaclavic, 32, a former infantryman in the Russian army.

Quizzed by police about his chosen get-up and weapons, Vaclavic claimed to have been "inspired by my idol Robin Hood". A police inspector said: "I've seen a lot of things in my long career but this takes the cake".