Story of Release Unclear

No clear picture had formed Saturday of what happened a day earlier when an Italian hostage was freed by secret agents only to be injured in a deadly shooting at the hands of U.S. soldiers on the road to Baghdad airport. Circumstances surrounding the Friday operation to release journalist Giuliana Sgrena (search) from a month's captivity by Iraqi insurgents remained as murky as the tidbits that emerged in two earlier cases involving Italians kidnapped and then set free in Iraq.

Neither the Italian authorities nor Sgrena, a 56-year-old reporter for communist daily Il Manifesto, gave details of the operation or said whether ransom was paid.

U.S. military authorities were likewise silent about the shooting tragedy in which Sgrena was hit in the shoulder and the Italian intelligence agent who led negotiations for her freedom, Nicola Calipari, was shot and died in the journalist's arms.

Even the well-connected Italian news agency Apcom noted "very many obscure points in the more or less official reconstructions."

The friendly fire incident provoked outrage in Italy, where the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been one of the Bush administration's staunchest allies in Iraq, keeping 3,000 troops there despite deep public opposition.

What is known after piecing together statements from Sgrena, her boyfriend, colleagues, the government and news reports:

— Italian intelligence agents, led by Calipari, worked for Sgrena's release as they did last spring after the abduction of three Italian private security guards and a Polish businessman, and again last fall when two Italian aid workers were grabbed by insurgents.

— The Milan daily Corriere della Sera said the agents set up shop at Camp Victory (search), the U.S. base near the Baghdad airport.

— Negotiations gained momentum after the Feb. 16 broadcast of a video in which Sgrena issued a tearful plea for her life and asked fellow Italians to pressure the Berlusconi government to withdraw its troops from Iraq.

— In the final hours of Sgrena's captivity Friday afternoon, Corriere della Sera reported, a stringer for the Arab satellite television channel Al-Jazeera took Sgrena to the Italian intelligence agents. An Al-Jazeera spokesman denied the newspaper report, saying its operation in Baghdad had long been closed and no stringers remained in the Iraqi capital.

— Officials said Sgrena was with her rescuers by 8:20 p.m., although the location of the purported handover is unclear. Neither Berlusconi, in a Friday news conference, nor Sgrena, in a Saturday interview with Italian state television, gave details on how or where she was released.

— By 8:55 p.m., according to a statement from the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division (search), "U.S. soldiers killed one civilian and wounded two others when their vehicle traveling at high speeds refused to stop at a check point."

— Sgrena's boyfriend, Pier Scolari, said she told him that the car wasn't speeding. Sgrena subsequently told interviewers the car was traveling at "regular speed."

— The U.S. military said the Americans used "hand and arm signals, flashing white lights, and firing warning shots" to try to get the car to stop. But in an interview with Italian La 7 TV, Sgrena said "there was no bright light, no signal, and at a certain point, from one side, a firestorm erupted."

— When The Associated Press in Baghdad asked the U.S. military to see the vehicle on Saturday, the military said it didn't know where it was.

Unanswered questions:

— How many people were wounded? The Americans said two civilians: Sgrena and an intelligence agent. Italian authorities said two agents were wounded besides Sgrena. Italian military officials declined to clear up the discrepancy and Berlusconi's office did not respond to a request for information.

— Were the Americans told by the Italians of Sgrena's imminent release or that she would be taken straight to Baghdad airport? Italians will likely be expecting answers early next week when Italian authorities, including Berlusconi, are to brief parliament on the abduction, release and shooting.

— Was ransom paid? An Iraqi lawmaker told Belgian state TV Saturday night that he had "nonofficial" information there was a $1 million payment.

Speculation that ransom was paid and confusion about how hostages gained their freedom also surrounded the end of two other abductions of Italians last year.

A key Italian lawmaker said in September he believed the Italian government paid $1 million for the release of two women aid workers who were held captive for three weeks, although Italy's foreign minister denied that. In the other case, the three security workers and the businessman were freed in a raid in June. Berlusconi described their liberators as "coalition forces" but Polish authorities said it was the Americans who carried out the operation.