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Erich Priebke, 97-Year-Old Nazi War Criminal, Allowed To Leave House Arrest In Italy

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ROME — Jewish groups expressed outrage Wednesday that a former Nazi SS captain convicted for his role in the massacre of 335 civilians in Italy has been allowed to leave house arrest for such everyday activities as shopping or going to church.

Erich Priebke's lawyer announced this week that an Italian court granted the 97-year-old German permission last year to leave the Rome apartment where he is serving a life sentence to take care of the "indispensable needs for his life."

He has to inform police before going out, and his lawyer says he is always watched, even in church.

A prominent Jewish leader called the ruling a "national disgrace."

"Holocaust survivors have reacted with shock and disbelief to news that this convicted Nazi killer could be allowed shopping trips and other excursions although sentenced to life imprisonment for his crimes," Elan Steinberg of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors said in an a-mail.

Priebke was extradited from Argentina in 1994. He was convicted three years later for his role in the massacre in Nazi-occupied Rome, carried out in retaliation for an attack by Italian resistance fighters that killed 33 members of a Nazi military police unit.

Priebke admitted shooting two people and helping round up the victims, but always insisted he was just following orders.

Shortly after his conviction, he was granted permission to leave his apartment to work as a translator at his lawyer's office, but protests by families of those murdered, politicians and Jewish groups led authorities to suspend his work-release permit.

His lawyer, Paolo Giachini, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he decided to announce the latest privileges granted Priebke before the news media learned on its own.

Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Rome Jewish community, has urged the justice minister to revoke the privileges and to reject any attempts to ease the detention.

"There is no statue of limitations for crimes against humanity," he told Italy's leading Corriere della Sera.

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