Nicola Calipari (search) was a veteran Italian secret service agent and practiced negotiator who had helped return two hostages kidnapped in Iraq home to their loved ones in Italy.

At least once before, Calipari reportedly came close to negotiating the release of yet another Italian hostage — the journalist Giuliana Sgrena — but left Baghdad empty-handed, according to the news agency ANSA.

It finally happened Friday, when Sgrena was handed over to Italian officials following a month of captivity in the hands of Iraqi insurgents. But the happy occasion quickly turned sour when the car taking Sgrena, Calipari and other agents to the Baghdad airport was fired upon at a U.S. checkpoint.

Calipari was killed as he threw his body across Sgrena.

"He was an extraordinary man. Getting to know him, I became certain that Giuliana would come home," Sgrena's boyfriend Pier Scolari told ANSA (search).

Sgrena, 56, who works for the leftist newspaper Il Manifesto, was abducted Feb. 4 by gunmen who blocked her car outside Baghdad University (search).

News of Calipari's death brought grief to other former hostages and their relatives.

"Nicola Calipari was a beautiful person, a simple person. He was the person who freed me," Simona Torretta told ANSA on Friday as she left Calipari's home, where she had gone to pay her respects and meet with his family.

The aid worker was held hostage in Iraq for three weeks with her colleague, Simona Pari, before being released Sept. 28.

"We are very sorry, we owe these people so much," said Pari's father, Luciano Pari. "He's a person who worked very well."

Italian Interior Minister Giuseppe Pisanu (search) also visited Calipari's home on Friday, describing the agent as "the most true and human hero of this tormented story."

Calipari, who is about 50, was married and had a 19-year-old daughter and a 13-year-old son. He was a 20-year veteran of the police force, and before moving on to Italy's secret services he had headed the immigration office for Rome's police.