State funeral for Italian who died saving hostage

Hundreds of people packed a Rome church today to pay their last respects to an Italian intelligence officer shot and killed by American troops in Iraq while escorting a former hostage to freedom.

Hundreds of people packed a Rome church today to pay their last respects to an Italian intelligence officer shot and killed by American troops in Iraq while escorting a former hostage to freedom.

The state funeral of Nicola Calipari in the Santa Maria degli Angeli Church was attended by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and other top officials including US Ambassador Mel Sembler.

An honour guard slowly carried the casket draped with an Italian flag into the church, where mourners who jammed the pews stood to applaud. In the front row, Calipari’s relatives gripped each other’s hands and dabbed away tears.

The funeral came after Calipari’s body lay in state at Rome’s Vittoriano monument, with tens of thousands of people streaming past the flag-draped coffin since the body was returned from Iraq on Saturday night.

Meanwhile, the hostage whose life Calipari saved said it was possible they were targeted deliberately because the US opposes Italy’s policy of negotiating with kidnappers, and promised Calipari’s widow to find out why they were attacked.

Journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was abducted in Baghdad on February 4, was recovering in a Rome hospital from a shrapnel wound to the shoulder and was not expected to attend the funeral.

Calipari was killed when US troops at a checkpoint fired at their vehicle Friday as they headed to the airport shortly after her release.

Calipari was to be awarded a gold medal of valour for heroism. Doctors said he was struck in the temple by a single round and died instantly.

Sgrena said Calipari died shielding her. She offered no evidence to support her claim that the attack was deliberate, and in an interview in an Italian newspaper today she said she doesn’t know what led to the attack.

“I believe, but it’s only a hypothesis, that the happy ending to the negotiations must have been irksome,” she said. “The Americans are against this type of operation. For them, war is war, human life doesn’t count for much.”

On Sunday, she said: “The fact that the Americans don’t want negotiations to free the hostages is known.”

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

Sgrena said she had spoken with Calipari’s widow.

“The only thing that I promised and I want to guarantee to her is that we must know the truth, because such exceptional people cannot die for no reason,” Sgrena said. “If someone is responsible, we need to know.”

Sgrena has rejected the US military’s account of the shooting, claiming instead that American soldiers gave no warning before they opened fire.

The White House called it a “horrific accident” and promised a full investigation.

The shooting has fuelled anti-American sentiment in Italy, where a majority of people opposed the war in Iraq and Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s decision to send 3,000 troops after Saddam Hussein’s ouster.

Neither Italian nor US officials gave details about how authorities won Sgrena’s release after a month in captivity. But Agriculture Minister Giovanni Alemanno was quoted as saying it was “very probable” a ransom was paid.

A reported €4.3m was paid for Sgrena’s freedom.

The US and Britain vehemently oppose to paying ransoms, saying they encourage further kidnappings.

Sgrena, who works for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto – a fierce opponent of the war and a frequent critic of US policy – said she knew nothing about a ransom.

In an article Sunday, Sgrena said her captors warned her shortly before her release to beware of the Americans. She later told Italian state TV: “When they let me go, it was a difficult moment for me because they told me: ‘The Americans don’t want you to return alive to Italy'.” Sgrena didn’t elaborate, and it wasn’t clear if “they” referred to her captors.

Her editor, Gabriele Polo, said Italian officials told him 300 to 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.

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