ROME – Recalling the horror the nation felt when its first hostage was killed in Iraq, word that a second Italian hostage was slain brought condemnation from the pope Friday and fueled debate over Italy's role in the war-torn country.
At the Olympics in Athens, Greece, Italian soccer players wore black armbands during their bronze medal match against Iraq in honor of Enzo Baldoni (search), a 56-year-old freelance journalist. The Italian polo team wore armbands in its 11-7 win and volleyball players wore a piece of black tape over their hearts during their match with Russia.
"It is in memory of Baldoni. It was also a statement against the war, of which we don't approve at all," said water polo player Fabio Bencivenga (search), dedicating the win over Croatia to the fallen journalist.
Late Thursday, the Qatar-based Arabic TV network Al-Jazeera (search) reported it had received a video that appeared to show the killing of Baldoni, two days after an Islamic militant group demanded that Italy's troops leave Iraq. The Italian ambassador to Qatar saw a still image showing the killing.
"Enzo is no longer here, and nobody can give him back to us, but he is also here among us, thanks to all that he has left us in these years," Baldoni's wife, Giusy Bonsignore, said in a statement given to Italian TV. "Enzo lived life with a smile, we'll keep doing so for him."
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (search) reaffirmed his commitment to keeping Italian troops in Iraq, vowing "to combat terrorism wherever and in whatever form it manifests itself."
Many Italians said the Baldoni's death didn't mean Italy should withdraw its troops.
"What happened to Baldoni doesn't change a thing. We have to stay," said Alessio Tenaglia, a 25-year-old banker in Rome.
Berlusconi defied public opinion when he decided to support President Bush by sending about 3,000 troops to Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"I was strongly against our intervention there, but it got too complicated to just say 'We leave,"' said a 55-year-old Roman psychoanalyst, Maria Giovanna Mazzone.
For many Italians, the news recalled the sadness the nation felt after Italian hostage Fabrizio Quattrocchi, a security guard, was shot by his abductors in April.
The nation closed ranks behind its leader when Quattrocchi was killed. In November, the death of 19 Italians in Nasiriyah provoked a wave of patriotism in a country wary of flag waving.
On Friday, even a left-leaning paper that has been highly critical of the war — La Repubblica — wrote that Italy could not give in to the blackmail of terrorism.
"The Italian decision to go to Iraq is a controversial one, and a wrong one in our opinion," the paper wrote. "But the policy of a legitimate democratic government is not susceptible to the blackmail and the violent desires of a terrorist group."
Some, however, expressed anger, linking Baldoni's death to Italy's policy in Iraq and saying the government is acting against the will of its people. Center-left opposition leaders called for a withdrawal. Others asked the government to lobby for a European Union intervention.
Baldoni was an advertising copy writer who liked to travel to hot spots as a freelance journalist. His death came a surprise for many here, as some officials had expressed hope that he would be freed.
Condolences and condemnations of the killing poured in.
Pope John Paul II issued a "firm condemnation" of the killing, saying he hoped that all "understand the urgent need to reject violence" in Iraq, the Vatican said.
The International Federation of Journalists said the killing was "senseless," while the International News Safety Institute said Baldoni's death brought the number of journalists killed in the Iraq conflict to 51.
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement to remind Italian citizens that it advises against trips to Iraq, saying the presence of citizens with no institutional role should be as "limited as possible."