updated 2/2/2009 2:44:43 PM ET 2009-02-02T19:44:43

Italian police have arrested three young men for allegedly beating and setting on fire an Indian immigrant who was sleeping on a train station bench in a seaside town near Rome, investigators said Monday.

The attack on the 35-year-old man in Nettuno sparked outrage in Italy and fueled a debate on attitudes toward immigrants.

Carabinieri paramilitary police said the three poured gasoline on the man early Sunday, then set him on fire.

The man has severe burns over 40 percent of his body, said Dr. Paolo Palombo, an official of Sant'Eugenio hospital in Rome, where the immigrant was taken for treatment. Palombo told SKY TG24 TV that the patient would undergo skin grafts Friday to help fight the danger of infection.

Mood turns ugly
The mood among some citizens has turned ugly in recent years following the arrest of immigrants as suspects in several high-profile crimes, including the slaying of an Italian admiral's wife in suburban Rome and the rape of a young Italian woman in the countryside near Rome.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano warned in a statement against "any display and risk of xenophobia, racism and violence."

Police said the suspects in the Nettuno attack include a 16-year-old and a 19-year-old. The third suspect is 29.

Investigators said the suspects apparently had been using drugs and alcohol.

"We can exclude racism as a motive because they were so high," Carabinieri Maj. Emanuele Gaeta told SKY TG24 TV.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government has been cracking down on illegal immigration in Italy, which surveys show many citizens link to crime.

His top security official, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, told reporters the Nettuno violence "isn't a racist attack. It's something worse," he said, a lack of fundamental values in society.

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