The state funeral for Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was held Monday morning in a church in central Rome. Mr. Calipari was killed by U.S. troops in Baghdad, in what the United States says was an accidental shooting, as he was taking a just freed Italian hostage to safety.
Thousands of sorrowful mourners turned out for the solemn and emotional service. There was applause as the coffin was carried into the packed church. Mr. Calipari's distraught wife sat next to her two children.
Among those attending were Italy's president and prime minister and other top state officials. The U.S. Ambassador to Italy was also present.
During the service, the undersecretary to the prime minister's office, Gianni Letta described Mr. Calipari as a serious, intelligent and responsible servant of the state, an extraordinary person who carried out his job with great passion. He was a man, Mr. Letta added, who gave you faith and security.
Mr. Letta also said this is a time for the country to honor the heroic sacrifice of Nicola Calipari without divisions and without controversy.
In his sermon a military chaplain spoke of the grandeur of Mr. Calipari's soul who sacrificed his life to save another one.
Mr. Calipari was killed Friday evening when U.S. troops opened fire on his car. He was traveling towards Baghdad airport after having secured the release of Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had been held captive by Iraqi insurgents for one month.
Ms. Sgrena works for the Communist daily Il Manifesto. She was wounded in the shooting. In a vivid account of the events that was published by her newspaper Sunday she said Mr. Calipari died shielding her from the shooting.
The intelligence officer was a highly experienced hostage negotiator. In the eyes of Italians he is a hero who sacrificed his life with selfless courage.
The journalist has charged that U.S. troops may have deliberately targeted her since the Italians had paid a ransom, a practice America opposes. But in an interview published Monday in a leading Italian paper, Ms. Sgrena appeared to be backtracking by saying she does not know what led to the attack.
Accounts of what happened differ. U.S. forces say the car was approaching at high speed and did not stop after warning signals. Ms. Sgrena says the car was driving at a regular speed and there was no justification for shooting.
The United States has called the killing of Mr. Calipari a "horrific accident" and promised a full investigation.
But the incident has led to an increase in anti-American sentiment in Italy, where a large part of public opinion opposed the war in Iraq. Italy has 3,000 troops based in the country and there have been increasing calls for those soldiers to be pulled out.