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Italian Hostage Returns Home

Freed Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena is taken to Celio Military hospital after she disembarked from the plane which brought her to Rome from Baghdad.
AP
Looking haggard, freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena returned to Italy from Iraq on Saturday hours after American troops fired on the car she was in, wounding her and killing an Italian intelligence officer with her.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was among the dignitaries at Rome's Ciampino Airport to welcome the journalist after her weeks in the hands of her captors and the final ordeal of the checkpoint shooting en route to Baghdad's airport.

Surrounded by relatives and military police, Sgrena, 56, was helped off the aircraft and put into an ambulance bound for a military clinic for an operation on her collarbone. A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders, and she appeared to be hooked up to an intravenous drip.

From the hospital, Sgrena recounted her ordeal. She said intelligence officer Nicola Calipari was killed probably because he tried to protect her.

"We thought the danger was over after my rescue," she told Rai News 24 by telephone. "And instead suddenly there was this shooting, we were hit by a spray of fire. I was talking to Nicola ... when he learned over me, probably to defend me, and then he slumped over. That was a truly terrible thing."

Pier Scolari, the journalist's boyfriend, said she told him: "The most difficult moment was when I saw the person who had saved me die in my arms," according to the ANSA news agency.

Sgrena told colleagues from her newspaper Il Manifesto, who met her plane, that her captors "never treated me badly," ANSA reported.

Friday's shooting occurred shortly after Sgrena was released after a month held hostage in Iraq. She left Iraq after being discharged from a Baghdad hospital.

Gabriele Polo, Sgrena's editor, said her first words to him were "ciao" and "thank you." He responded, "There's no reason for thanks."

The shrapnel removed from Sgrena's shoulder may have been a fragment of the fire that killed Calipari, he said. Polo said he spoke to Berlusconi, who told him: "It was a terrible night, we will remember it for all our lives."

CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin reports Pentagon officials have confirmed that it was an apparent mistake.

The U.S. military said the car Sgrena was riding in after her release was speeding as it approached a coalition checkpoint in western Baghdad on its way to the airport. It said soldiers shot into the engine block only after trying to warn the driver to stop by "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights and firing warning shots."

U.S. troops took Sgrena to an American military hospital in Iraq, where shrapnel was removed from her left shoulder.

Sgrena was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University. Last month, she was shown in a video pleading for her life and demanding that all foreign troops — including Italian forces — leave Iraq.

The shooting came as a blow to Berlusconi, who has kept 3,000 troops in Iraq, and was likely to set off new protests in Italy, where tens of thousands have regularly demonstrated against the Iraq war. Sgrena's left-leaning newspaper vigorously opposed the conflict.

News of the shooting drew immediate criticism Friday from Berlusconi's political foes, who were eager to attack the government for its staunch support of the war.

"Another victim of an absurd war," Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the Green Party, told the Apcom news agency.

Berlusconi summoned the U.S. ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler, who met with the premier for about one hour.

"The United States will continue to provide all necessary assistance," Sembler said in a statement, expressing condolences to Calipari's family and wishing the wounded a quick recovery. "And we are working with our Italian allies as we fully investigate the circumstances of this tragedy."

President Bush called Berlusconi and expressed his regret in a five-minute conversation, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday night. Bush then assured Berlusconi that the incident would be "fully investigated," he said.

Pope John Paul II sent two messages of condolences, one to Berlusconi and another to Calipari's family, the Vatican said.

The pope said he was "saddened at the tragic death" of Calipari, and called him a "faithful and heroic servant of the state, who, in carrying out the delicate mission that had been given to him, didn't hesitate to sacrifice his life."