Questions Grow Over Shooting Incident as Italian Reporter Returns Home Print E-mail

By The Associated Press

Published: March 05, 2005 10:00 AM ET
ROME Draped in a blanket and apparently hooked up to an intravenous drip, former hostage Giuliana Sgrena was carried off a plane upon returning from Iraq on Saturday, hours after American troops fired on the car taking her to Baghdad's airport, wounding her and killing the Italian intelligence officer protecting her.

President Bush promised a full investigation into the shooting.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi greeted Sgrena after she was carried off her plane at Rome's Ciampino Airport following her release from weeks of captivity. Surrounded by relatives and military police, Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist with the newspaper Il Manifesto, was put into an ambulance bound for a military clinic for an operation on her collarbone.

A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders, and she appeared to be hooked up to an intravenous drip.

Her brother, Ivan Sgrena, told reporters she was very happy to be back in Italy but was "very sorry and sad" about the death of intelligence officer Nicola Calipari, who Berlusconi said was killed when he threw himself over Sgrena to protect her from U.S. fire.

From the hospital, Giuliana Sgrena told Rai News 24 by telephone that "we thought the danger was over after my rescue."

"And instead, suddenly there was this shooting. We were hit by a spray of fire," she told the television network. "I was talking to Nicola ... when he leaned over me, probably to defend me, and then he slumped over. That was a truly terrible thing."

Pier Scolari, the journalist's boyfriend, said she told him: "The most difficult moment was when I saw the person who had saved me die in my arms," according to the ANSA news agency.

[Scolari told Sky Italia TV: "I have said so many times, war is madness. Probably it was scared boys who fired, it wasn't their fault, it was the fault of those that sent them there." Scolari also said the shootout took place 700 meters from the airport, after they had already passed other road blocks. At a press conference he said: "Giuliana and the other people who were there told me that the American attack was completely unjustified. They had alerted the whole chain of command, the Italian troops were awaiting them at the airport. And yet, they fired 300, 400 rounds. Why?"]

Gabriele Polo, her editor, said Berlusconi told him: "It was a terrible night, we will remember it for all our lives."

Giuliana Sgrena told her newspaper colleagues, who met her plane, that her captors "never treated me badly," ANSA reported. "She's been through a trial, but she's alive. Finally, we've gotten to see her," said her father, Franco.

She was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University. Last month, she was shown in a video pleading for her life and demanding that all foreign troops including Italian forces leave Iraq.

Friday's shooting occurred shortly after Giuliana Sgrena was released from a Baghdad hospital.

The U.S. military said the car she was riding in after her release was speeding as it approached a coalition checkpoint in western Baghdad on its way to the airport. Soldiers shot into the engine block after trying to warn the driver to stop by "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots," the military said.

U.S. troops took Sgrena to an American military hospital in Iraq, where shrapnel was removed from her left shoulder. The shrapnel removed from Sgrena's shoulder may have been a fragment of the fire that killed Calipari, he said.

Berlusconi has kept 3,000 troops in Iraq, and the shooting was likely to set off new protests in Italy, where tens of thousands have regularly demonstrated against the Iraq war. Sgrena's newspaper vigorously opposed the conflict.

News of the shooting drew immediate criticism Friday from Berlusconi's political foes, who were eager to attack the government for its staunch support of the war.

"Another victim of an absurd war," Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the Green Party, told the Apcom news agency.

Berlusconi summoned the U.S. ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler, who met with the premier for about an hour.

"The United States will continue to provide all necessary assistance," Sembler said in a statement, expressing condolences to Calipari's family and wishing the wounded a quick recovery. "And we are working with our Italian allies as we fully investigate the circumstances of this tragedy."

[The Committee to Protect Journalists urged the military to vigorously investigate all questions regarding the shooting. "We are relieved that Giuliana Sgrena has been freed, but are deeply concerned that the car taking her to safety came under military fire," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "Military officials must conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances that caused this shooting, which turned a very positive development into a tragedy."]

Bush called Berlusconi and expressed his regret in a five-minute conversation, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday night. Bush then assured Berlusconi the incident would be "fully investigated," he said.