Milan - A 54 year-old man who burst into an Italian tax collection office and held an official hostage at gunpoint for several hours risks eight years in prison, officials said on Friday.

Luigi Martinelli, whom officials said had tax debts of no more than about 1 000 euros, is currently in detention after he surrendered to officers late on Thursday. Officials said on Friday they were still trying to establish his motives.

“From the little that he has said informally it looks like an act of protest, but one which does not seem to be explainable by the objective circumstances,” Massimo Meroni, deputy prosecutor in the northern town of Bergamo, said.

Martinelli burst into the offices of Equitalia armed with a shotgun and two pistols. He initially took 15 people hostage but quickly released all but one. After hours of negotiations, he released the final hostage on Thursday night and surrendered to police.

“He was a very normal person, but he was in a rage,” the police official who conducted the negotiations told Italian television.

Prime Minister Mario Monti's office issued a statement on Friday denying press reports he had been prepared to speak to the angry gunman.

Martinelli's action is the latest in a series of outbreaks of rage or despair by individuals since the economic crisis begun to squeeze Italian consumers.

Equitalia offices have been targeted by small bomb attacks, while some desperate Italians, including a Bologna tradesman who set himself on fire, have committed suicide. - Reuters