Accessibility links

Italian Journalist Held Hostage in Iraq Returns to Rome

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was held hostage in Iraq for a month, returned home Saturday, and was taken to a military hospital in Rome, as Italians demanded to know why U.S. forces shot at her car in Baghdad. The journalist was wounded and a security officer in the car with her was killed.

Looking exhausted, but happy to be home, Giuliana Sgrena and an injured security officer stepped off an Italian military plane from Baghdad, and were taken immediately to Rome's military hospital.

Ms. Sgrena came out of the plane in pain, and walking with great difficulty. Relatives and medical staff helped her down the plane's stairs and into a waiting ambulance.

In the hospital, she was visited by the widow of the man who helped negotiate her release from Iraqi insurgents, and then apparently saved her life when the car came under fire, intelligence officer Nicola Calipari.

Ms. Sgrena told Italian media that when U.S. forces opened fire on the car as it approached Baghdad airport, Mr. Calipari threw himself on top of her. He was killed as hundreds of bullets riddled the car. She was wounded in the shoulder.

Italians are now demanding to know exactly what happened. The journalist's partner, Pierre Scolari, who traveled to Baghdad to escort her back to Italy, says both U.S. and Italian forces were aware that she had been released from captivity and that her car would be passing through checkpoints.

Mr. Scolari said they were 700 meters from the airport and had already passed some U.S.-manned checkpoints.

U.S. forces said they tried to warn the driver to stop, and opened fire when it failed to do so. They said they had not been alerted to its passage.

The happiness over Ms. Sgrena's release after one month in captivity turned into despair over the death of one of Italy's top intelligence officials. A state funeral is scheduled for Monday.

In a telephone call during the night, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was assured by U.S. President Bush that a full investigation into the incident would take place.

But Italy's center-left opposition stepped up political pressure on the government, saying what happened was a very serious incident.

Communist leader Fausto Bertinotti said, "war allows occupation forces to shoot at any time against anyone, even against those trying to save a human life. Shooting takes place every day, and there is only one thing to do, and that is to end this war."

But the Italian government is unlikely to change its policies in Iraq or withdraw its 3,000-strong contingent in the country. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said the incident would not harm relations between Italy and the United States.