More than 70 percent of Italians opposed the government's decision to send 3,000 troops to help President Bush secure postwar Iraq.
Anti-American sentiment is so high that even after the full inquiry promised by Washington, many won't believe any version but their own, which is being summed up in a single word, "murder," reports CBS News Correspondent Allen Pizzey.
Already Saturday, about 100 demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy in Rome blocked traffic, and one banner read: "USA, war criminals." A few dozen communist demonstrators in Milan handed out leaflets reading, "Shame on you, Bush."
Freed hostage Giuliana Sgrena, a 56-year-old journalist for the communist newspaper Il Manifesto, arrived at a Rome airport looking haggard, with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She walked unsteadily and was hooked up to an intravenous drip following surgery to remove shrapnel from her shoulder.
From a Rome military hospital, Sgrena recounted her ordeal.
Soon after she was freed from a month in captivity, a U.S. armored vehicle opened fire on the car carrying her to the airport Friday. Intelligence officer Nicola Calipari likely died trying to protect her, she said.
"We thought the danger was over after my rescue," she told Rai News 24 television by telephone. "And instead suddenly there was this shooting, we were hit by a spray of fire. I was talking to Nicola ... when he leaned 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.
Calipari was the brother of a priest who serves on a Vatican advisory body, Vatican radio reported Saturday, and Pope John Paul II sent a message of condolence to the slain agent's family. Calipari was to be awarded a posthumous medal of valor.
After the shooting, U.S. troops took Sgrena to an American military hospital in Iraq. Italy said two other agents were wounded. One was seriously injured and remained hospitalized in Iraq, while the had minor injuries and returned on Sgrena's flight, state television said. Calipari's body has not yet been brought back to Italy.
In a city where mobile phones often don't work, and different coalition radio systems don't interconnect, the U.S. troops guarding the airport road say they did not know the Italian car was coming, reports CBS News Correspondent Kimberly Dozier.
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."
Sgrena, who was interviewed by prosecutors at the Rome hospital, denied that the car was speeding, news reports said.
The shooting came as a new blow to center-right Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a strong Bush ally. Tens of thousands of Italians regularly demonstrated against the Iraq war, and the Italian left — including Sgrena's newspaper — vigorously opposed the conflict.
"Another victim of an absurd war," Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the Green Party, was quoted as telling the Apcom news agency.
Italy's foreign minister said he hoped Calipari's death would not spark an anti-American backlash.
"That would be the most underhanded way of marking the memory of this hero," Gianfranco Fini was quoted as telling the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
"It was not a blitz that went wrong," he said. "It was a macabre mockery of fate."
One opposition leader objected to Fini's reference to fate.
"Destiny does not pull the trigger of a machine gun," said Piero Fassino, leader of the Democratic Party of the Left.
On the left and right, Italians demanded answers.
"We have the right to know what happened ... to have details and explanations," said Romano Prodi, a former center-left premier and former European Commission president.
Berlusconi summoned the U.S. ambassador to Rome, Mel Sembler. Bush called Berlusconi and expressed his regret, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said Friday.
Sgrena was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University. Last month, she was shown in a video sobbing, pleading for her life and demanding that all foreign troops — including Italian forces — leave Iraq.
On Saturday, however, Sgrena told colleagues from her newspaper that her captors "never treated me badly," ANSA reported. She also said a woman was among the abductors and that she communicated with them in French and English.