Italian police said Thursday that 15 African Muslim migrants have been arrested after witnesses said the refugees threw 12 Christians into the Mediterranean following a brawl.
Palermo police told the Associated Press that they had learned of the assault while interviewing tearful survivors from Nigeria and Ghana who had arrived in the city Wednesday morning after being rescued at sea by the ship Ellensborg.
The 15 were accused of multiple homicide aggravated by religious hatred, police said in a statement.
The survivors said they had boarded a rubber boat April 14 on the Libyan coast with 105 passengers aboard, part of the wave of migrants taking advantage of calm seas and warm weather to make the risky crossing from Libya, where most smuggling operations originate.
During the crossing, the migrants from Nigeria and Ghana — believed to be Christians — were threatened with being abandoned at sea by some 15 other passengers from the Ivory Coast, Senegal, Mali and Guinea Bissau.
Eventually the threat was carried out and 12 were pushed overboard. The statement said the motive was that the victims "professed the Christian faith while the aggressors were Muslim."