A mugger in Italy got more than he bargained for when the woman he tried to rob turned out to be a national karate champion.
By Nick Squires in Rome
Last Updated: 3:46PM BST 10 Sep 2008
Lara Liotta is four times Italian women's karate champion
Four times Italian women's champion Lara Liotta, 29, was on a street in broad daylight in central Rome when the man, a Romanian immigrant of no fixed abode, approached her and asked her for a cigarette.
When she told him she did not smoke he allegedly lunged for her and grabbed her around the neck.
Miss Liotta, who works as prison officer, immediately put her black belt training to good use, delivering two swift jabs to the man's face which sent him crashing to the ground.
The karate champion was fortunate she could rely on her skills to fight off her attacker because there was no assistance from passersby, despite the attack happening shortly after rush hour on Monday.
"No one helped me or stopped, even though there are lots of people around at that time of the day," she told an Italian newspaper.
After punching the man to the floor, she ran to the nearby railway station of Termini and alerted police, who caught him before he could run away. He was arrested and detained on charges of assault.
"It could have been much worse. What would have happened if this person, instead of attacking me, a karate champion who knows how to defend herself well, had attacked a young girl?
"I'm lost for words," Miss Liotta, who competed in the under 55kg weight category, said.
The incident comes at a time when there is mounting concern in Italy that crime levels are rising and that immigrants are largely to blame.
The fear has been fuelled by a number of recent high-profile crimes involving Roma gypsies, around 50,000 of whom have moved to Italy in recent years.
There was outrage in November when the 47-year-old wife of an Italian naval officer died after being savagely beaten and raped by a Romanian migrant in a once well heeled suburb of Rome.
In May a gypsy encampment in Naples was burned to the ground by vigilantes following the arrest of a Roma woman accused of trying to kidnap a child.
The right-wing government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been accused of exploiting concerns over law and order for political gain by targeting gypsies and immigrants in a widespread crackdown on crime.
Last month around 3,000 soldiers were deployed to the streets of Italy's biggest cities in an initiative which the government said would deter criminals.
The soldiers, some of whom mounted joint patrols with police, are expected to remain on the streets for at least six months.
The government is also proceeding with a plan to fingerprint thousands of Roma gypsies who have no identity papers, many of whom live in makeshift camps around Italy's big cities. The measure has attracted criticism from human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
Mr Berlusconi's coalition also plans to tackle the problem of overcrowded prisons by deporting thousands of foreign criminals.