U.S. Troops Fire on Car of Freed Hostage, Killing Italian
The shooting deeply angered Italian officials, including Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi, who has kept his country’s forces in Iraq despite domestic opposition to the war, called on American Ambassador Mel Sembler to explain.
“Given that the fire came from an American source I called in the American ambassador,” Berlusconi told reporters. “I believe we must have an explanation for such a serious incident, for which someone must take the responsibility.”
Berlusconi said the intelligence officer killed Friday, whom he identified as Nicola Calipari, had been one of the key negotiators who gained Sgrena’s release.
“The agent, Nicola Calipari covered Sgrena with his body, he was hit by a bullet which unfortunately was fatal,” he said.
“He was an extraordinary man, a man who gave me the certainty that Giuliana would come home. When I learned he had been killed by American soldiers,” Sgrena’s boyfriend Pier Scolari told Reuters. “I felt a pain which for a moment overshadowed the joy of (Sgrena’s) liberation.”
White House officials were quick to express regret over the incident, which was likely to spark further protests in a country where tens of thousands have marched against Italy’s involvement in the military operation.
American military officials said the shooting was under investigation, but added it was their understanding the car was fired upon after it failed to slow down at the checkpoint.
“At approximately 8:55 p.m. on March 4, coalition forces assigned to the multinational force-Iraq fired on a vehicle that was approaching a coalition checkpoint in Baghdad at a high rate of speed,” U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The American troops “attempted to warn the driver to stop by hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots in front of the car,” the military said in a separate statement. “When the driver didn’t stop, the soldiers shot into the engine block which stopped the vehicle, killing one and wounding two others.”
Sgrena, who worked for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, spent more than a month held hostage by insurgents in Iraq. She was last seen on Feb. 16 pleading with Italian leaders to pull their troops out of Iraq so she would not be killed.