Two 19-year-old American tourists have confessed to fatally stabbing a paramilitary policeman who was investigating the theft of a bag with a cellphone, police in Italy have said.

In a statement, Carabinieri officers investigating the death on Friday of officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, said the American men were detained for alleged murder and attempted extortion after being questioned overnight.

They were taken to a Rome jail as the investigation continues. Italian authorities have not released their names.

The two had snatched the bag of a drug dealer in Rome after the man apparently gave them “a different substance” instead of cocaine, according to an Italian investigator.

The Carabinieri said the Americans demanded a 100 euro (£90) ransom and a gram of cocaine to return the bag.

A woman leaves flowers in front of the Carabinieri station where Mario Cerciello Rega was based (AP)

The alleged dealer called police, saying he had arranged a meeting with the thieves to get his bag and cellphone back.

Police say there was a scuffle at the rendezvous site and the policeman was stabbed eight times, dying shortly afterwards in hospital.

Andrea Varriale (L), the injured Carabiniere police officer, and colleague of slain Mario Cerciello Rega, in a Carabinieri car as he leaves a Carabinieri police station (EPA)

The Carabinieri said video surveillance cameras and witnesses allowed them to quickly identify the two Americans and find them in a hotel near the scene of the killing.

Police said the two Americans were “ready to leave” Italy when they were found.

In a search of their hotel room, the Carabinieri said they found a long knife, possibly the one used to attack Mr Cerciello Rega.

Police said the knife had been hidden behind a panel in the room’s ceiling. Police also said they found clothes the two apparently were wearing during the attack.

The Carabinieri statement said the two Americans admitted responsibility after being questioned by prosecutors and faced with “hard evidence”.

It was not known if the Americans had an Italian lawyer.

Reporting by AP

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