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Monday, March 07, 2005

CNN.com - Ex-hostage disputes U.S. account of shooting - Mar 6, 2005

Ex-hostage disputes U.S. account of shooting
Italian journalist: 'I only remember fire'


ROME, Italy (CNN) -- An Italian journalist shot by U.S. forces in Iraq shortly after being freed from her captors disputes a U.S. account of the incident in which she was wounded and a security agent protecting her was killed.

In an article published Sunday in her communist newspaper, Il Manifesto, Giuliana Sgrena wrote, "Our car was driving slowly," and "the Americans fired without motive." (Read the article)

She described a "rain of fire and bullets" in the incident.

The U.S. military said Sgrena's car rapidly approached a checkpoint Friday night, and those inside ignored repeated warnings to stop.

Troops used arm signals and flashing white lights, fired warning shots in front of the car, and shot into the engine block when the driver did not stop, the military said in a statement.

But in an interview with Italy's La 7 Television, the 56-year-old journalist said "there was no bright light, no signal."

And Italian magistrate Franco Ionta said Sgrena reported the incident was not at a checkpoint, but rather that the shots came from "a patrol that shot as soon as they lit us up with a spotlight."

In an interview with Sky TV, Sgrena said "feeling yourself covered with avalanche of gunfire from a tank that is beside you, that did not give you any warning that it was about to attack if we did not stop -- this is absolutely inconceivable even in normal situations, even if they hadn't known that we were there, that we were supposed to come through."

Rules of engagement permit coalition troops to use escalating levels of force if they feel threatened. They can use lethal force, for example, if a car refuses to stop for a checkpoint.

It remains unclear whether U.S. officials knew that the Italian security team would be taking Sgrena to the airport. U.S. and Italian officials have not said.

Sgrena was slightly wounded in the shoulder and underwent treatment at a U.S. hospital in Baghdad. She is now back in Rome, getting follow-up treatment at the city's military hospital.

Her release Friday came one month to the day after she was abducted outside a mosque in Baghdad.

Italian media suggest a ransom was paid for her release, but government officials are not commenting on the reports. The Italian government has paid ransoms to free other hostages in the past.

In her article Sunday, headlined "My truth," Sgrena described the harrowing ordeal of "the most dramatic day of my life" -- including the moment that 50-year-old security agent Nicola Calipari threw himself on her to protect her from the bullets and she heard "his last breath."

An autopsy found Calipari, an experienced negotiator who had previously secured the release of other Italian hostages in Baghdad, was killed by a single shot to the head and died instantly. (Profile)

His body is lying in state at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome, where visitors have been paying their respects, and a state funeral was planned for Monday. President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi said he would award Calipari, a married father of two, the gold medal of valor for his heroism.

One other member of the Italian secret service was in the car as well and was wounded. Italian officials said earlier there were two others in the car, but said Sunday there was only one other.

Sgrena wrote that after being released by her captors, she was transferred to the custody of Calipari and the other guards. She said Calipari "kept on talking and talking, you couldn't contain him, an avalanche of friendly phrases and jokes. I finally felt an almost physical consolation, warmth that I had forgotten for some time."

She was told "we were less than a kilometer" from the airport, where a plane was waiting to take her back to Rome, "when ... I only remember fire. At that point, a rain of fire and bullets hit us, shutting up forever the cheerful voices of a few minutes earlier."

"The driver started yelling that we were Italians. 'We are Italians, we are Italians.' Nicola Calipari threw himself on me to protect me and immediately, I repeat, immediately I heard his last breath as he was dying on me. I must have felt physical pain, I didn't know why."

She then thought of something her captors had told her: "The Americans don't want you to go back."

Saturday, the left-leaning Il Manifesto accused U.S. forces of "assassinating" Calipari.

Sgrena's partner, Pierre Scolari, also blamed the shooting on the U.S. government, suggesting the incident was intentional.

"I hope the Italian government does something because either this was an ambush, as I think, or we are dealing with imbeciles or terrorized kids who shoot at anyone," he said, according to Reuters.

Sgrena and her newspaper fiercely oppose the war. She wrote that she told her kidnappers that repeatedly, but they refused to let her go.
Rome protests

President Bush called Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Friday night to express his regrets about the shootings and pledged a full investigation.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called his Italian counterpart Saturday morning also to offer his "regret at the loss of life and the situation," a senior defense official said Sunday.

The Iraq war has been extremely unpopular in Italy from the beginning, and the incidents Friday triggered new protests. Thousands packed streets in Rome carrying signs condemning the war and the Bush administration.

CNN's Alessio Vinci and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

Find this article at:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/03/06/italy.iraq/index.htm

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