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'AIDS Gang' in Robbery Spree

ROME -- Three men with AIDS who brazenly rob banks knowing they cannot be jailed under Italian law called Wednesday for understanding and more state help or they will strike again.

"We haven't hurt anyone in any of the bank raids," Ferdinando Attanasio of the group, dubbed the "AIDS gang" by Italian media, told Turin's La Stampa newspaper, after meeting reporters at the northern city's Amadeo di Savoia hospital for infectious diseases.

"We rob because we are forced to. To eat. To keep our problem a live issue," Attanasio said. "Since 1989, when I discovered I had the disease, I have been waiting for a pension. Every time I ask, they say, 'Wait a little bit longer.' ... In the meantime I would have died of hunger."

The men rob banks in the Turin area unmasked and in broad daylight and without worrying about security cameras.

The gang were detained after a robbery Friday but were freed because a 1993 Italian law rules out jail for those in the final stages of a terminal illness. Full-blown AIDS sufferers fall specifically within this category.

Criminals with HIV are kept in prison until their illness becomes serious enough to be defined as "incompatible with prison life," when they are released.

Police and judicial authorities have urged the Justice Ministry to reconsider the law.

"They know they can't be imprisoned so they take no precautions to hide their identities. They robbed the last bank in full view of the security cameras, armed only with a pocket knife," police spokesman Sergio Molino said.

The gang made 20 million lire ($12,000) from the latest holdup and managed to hide the loot before police arrested them after identifying them as the culprits on security videos.

Attanasio maintained that the three were not criminals and that the holdups were done out of desperation.

"When I go to rob a bank we do not laugh out loud as some have written. I am terrified of dying like everybody else, terrified that a policeman is going to shoot me," he said.

"But must I beg? Must I be taken for a ride? All I know is that recently I have at least lived with dignity."

Fellow gang member Antonio Lamarra called for "work, a place to live and help," saying the state was happy to pay wages and protection to former Mafia turncoats who had murdered people.

"Give me a job, a place to live and a cure ... and I'll stop robbing. Otherwise, I'll continue," Sergio Magnis, the gang's third man, told Rome's La Repubblica.

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