US troops 'may have opened fire deliberately'

The Italian journalist who was wounded by US gunfire in Baghdad today said she had not ruled out the possibility that troops shot at her car deliberately.

The Italian journalist who was wounded by US gunfire in Baghdad today said she had not ruled out the possibility that troops shot at her car deliberately.

Giuliana Sgrena made the sensitive comments from a Rome hospital where she is recuperating from a shrapnel wound to the shoulder.

An Italian intelligence officer was killed when US troops at a checkpoint fired at their vehicle on Friday as they headed to the airport, celebrating her first moments of freedom.

Neither Italian nor US officials gave details about how authorities won Sgrena’s release after a month in captivity, but one Italian Cabinet minister said a ransom was likely to have been paid. US officials caution against ransoms, saying they encourage further kidnappings.

Without backing up the claim, Sgrena said it was possible she was targeted on purpose. The left-wing journalist, who works for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, said she knew nothing about a ransom and offered no details on the talks.

“The fact that the Americans don’t want negotiations to free the hostages is known,” she told Sky TG24 television by telephone.

“The fact that they do everything to prevent the adoption of this practice to save the lives of people held hostage, everybody knows that. So I don’t see why I should rule out that I could have been the target.”

The shooting fuelled anti-American sentiment in a country where people have deeply opposed the war in Iraq, despite Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to send 3,000 troops after Saddam Hussein was toppled.

Sgrena’s newspaper was a fierce opponent of the war and frequently criticises the policies of US President George W Bush.

One Italian cabinet member urged Sgrena to show more caution in her remarks.

“I understand the emotion of these hours, but those who have been under stress in the past few weeks should pull themselves together and avoid saying nonsense,” Communications Minister Maurizio Gasparri said, quoted by the ANSA news agency.

Gasparri said the shooting would not affect Italian support for efforts to secure postwar Iraq.

“The military mission must carry on because it consolidates democracy and liberty in Iraq,” he said.

In an article published today, Sgrena recalled how her captors warned her “to be careful because the Americans don’t want you to return”. She said they blindfolded her and drove her to a location to release her. Then she was turned over to agents and they set off for the airport.

The US military said the Americans used hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and fired warning shots to get the speeding car to stop at the roadblock.

But in an interview with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena disputed the claim, saying “there was no bright light, no signal”. She also has said the car was travelling at normal speed.

Her editor, Gabriele Polo, said Italian officials told him 300-400 rounds were fired at the car. Italian military officials said two other intelligence agents were wounded in the shooting; US officials said it was only one.

“President Bush, on behalf of the American people, expresses our condolences,” White House counsellor Dan Bartlett said on CNN’s “Late Edition”, calling the shooting “a horrific accident” and pledging a full investigation.

“As you know, in a situation where there is a live combat zone, particularly this road to the airport has been a notorious area for car bombs,” Bartlett said. “People are making split-second decisions, and it’s critically important that we get the facts before we make judgments.”

Sgrena, who was abducted on February 4 by gunmen outside Baghdad University, returned to Rome on Saturday.

An Iraqi lawmaker, Younadem Kana, said he had ”non-official” information that a $1m (€755,000) ransom was paid for Sgrena’s release, Italy’s Apcom news agency reported.

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