Hundreds of Italian soldiers and police are engaged in a huge manhunt for a fugitive dubbed “Rambo” who shot dead two men before going on the run and living off the land.
The search for Igor Vaclavik – believed to be a former soldier from Serbia – is becoming increasingly urgent, with the authorities warning that he is armed, dangerous and would have little hesitation in killing again.
The hunt was stepped up over the Easter long weekend, with the authorities worried that the longer time goes on, the greater chance there is that Vaclavic will escape the dragnet.
He is believed to be living off the land in a large swathe of wooded countryside between Bologna and Ferrara in northern Italy, scavenging fruit from orchards and eggs from chicken coops and drinking from streams.
Soldiers, including elite paratroopers, and police have been hunting for the 41-year-old for more than two weeks, after he allegedly shot dead a 52-year-old man in an attempted robbery of a bar in the town of Budrio near Bologna.
Vaclavik, who also goes by the name Norbert Feher as well as other aliases, fled from the scene of the murder, which took place on April 1.
A week later he was challenged by a gamekeeper and a police officer, who were patrolling a wood and thought he might be a poacher.
Vaclavik allegedly shot both of them, killing the gamekeeper, Valerio Verri, and seriously wounding his colleague, Marco Ravaglia.
Mr Ravaglia was hit by three bullets and has undergone several operations in hospital, where his condition remains serious.
The gunman is believed to have stolen the police officer’s pistol and spare clip of ammunition before fleeing once again.
He has not been since since. The manhunt involves more than 1,000 soldiers and police officers, including snipers equipped with night vision goggles and teams with sniffer dogs, who are combing a large area of scrubland and marsh.
They are checking isolated farmhouses and barns in the area, which they have designated the “red zone”, and warning locals not to approach Vaclavik.
He is believed to be carrying two automatic weapons, including the pistol stolen from the police officer, and up to 40 rounds of ammunition.
One search team found signs that Vaclavik had bedded down for a few hours in a patch of scrub, but he was long gone by the time they discovered the hiding place.
“He will try to remain in hiding until things have calmed down,” a former criminal accomplice of the fugitive told police, according to Corriere della Sera newspaper. “But in any case, he would rather die fighting than go to prison.”
People living in the area were concerned for their safety but not “hysterical”, said a local mayor.
“There is concern because this is a situation that has no precedent in the region – this is a huge manhunt,” said Dario Mantovani, the mayor of the town of Molinella.
Police are manning roadblocks in the area while soldiers patrol the woods and fields.
“We’ll keep this deployment of forces in the region until we find him,” said Gian Luca Galletti, the environment minister, who represented the government at the funeral of Mr Verri, the gamekeeper.