ROME (AP) — The case of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke took on another bizarre twist Thursday as his family said it doesn't know where his body is.
Family lawyer Paolo Giachini said he and the former SS captain's family lost track of Priebke's casket Tuesday night, when they tried to celebrate a funeral Mass for him in a church compound in Albano Laziale south of Rome.
At a certain point, he told Sky TG24, a group of about 30 people entered the compound and took the casket out following protests pitting Priebke's right-wing supporters against his detractors.
Italian state radio said the casket was taken to a nearby military base. But Giachini said he hadn't been able to establish who has the body or where it is, and Italian officials have refused to divulge information about it.
"It's unheard of that a casket can be made to disappear in this country, taken from those who had custody of it in a private place — a place of worship — and taking it by force without any order, any notification," Giachini said. "We want clarity."
Priebke died Friday at age 100 in Rome, where he was serving a life term for the 1944 massacre of 335 civilians at the Ardeatine Caves outside Rome. It was one of the worst atrocities in German-occupied Italy during World War II.
His death sparked waves of outrage in Italy's Jewish community because, in a final statement issued by his lawyer upon his death, Priebke denied that Jews were gassed in Nazi death camps.
In a separate video statement released by Giachini on Thursday, Priebke also defended his actions at the Ardeatine Caves, saying the orders to shoot the civilians came from Adolf Hitler himself and that members of his SS unit were told they would be shot if they didn't obey.
Giachini said he had been in touch with the German embassy for possible burial in Priebke's native land, once the body is located.