ROME – Satellite phones used by Italian intelligence officers following the release of a hostage in Iraq are in the hands of Italian secret services and will be examined by experts investigating the fatal shooting of one of the agents by U.S. troops, according to news reports.
The killing of Nicola Calipari (search) by American forces on March 4 shocked Italy, and Premier Silvio Berlusconi and other top officials have demanded an explanation from Washington. The incident also posed a problem for Berlusconi — a staunch U.S. ally who sent 3,000 troops to Iraq despite deep opposition from Italians.
Calipari was killed when U.S. troops fired on the vehicle carrying him, another intelligence officer and journalist Giuliana Sgrena (search) to the Baghdad airport.
Berlusconi has said that Calipari had notified the proper authorities that he was on his way to the airport. However, Italian dailies La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera reported Friday that U.S. authorities in Iraq knew of the presence of Calipari and a colleague, but had not been told that their mission was to free Sgrena, who had been kidnapped in Baghdad on Feb. 4.
The lack of full information was possibly due to known U.S. opposition to Italy's policy of negotiating with kidnappers, Italian media have suggested.
Both newspapers cited a report by Maj. Gen. Mario Marioli (search), an Italian who is the coalition forces' second-in-command, in which he said he knew why Calipari was in Iraq but the Americans didn't.
La Repubblica initially had said that Marioli also didn't know the reason for the mission. But the newspaper reported in its Saturday editions that Marioli twice asked whether he should tell U.S. authorities the reason for Calipari's presence in Iraq, and was twice told not to, according to his report.
The first time, by Calipari himself before he set off from the airport to go pick up Sgrena, and the second time by the chief of Italy's intelligence services in Baghdad after Sgrena was released.
In his report, Marioli states he told one other officer with the coalition forces about Calipari's mission, but he does not name that officer or reveal his or her nationality, the Turin daily La Stampa reported in its Saturday editions.
The report has been given to Rome prosecutors investigating the killing.
Italian officials and Sgrena have said that Calipari and the other agent made several phone calls — all in Italian — on their way to the airport after Sgrena's release.
Italian prosecutors had two phones belonging to the secret service agents, but initially were not given access to their three satellite phones, Italian news agency ANSA reported.
It was not clear if U.S. forces or some other group had the three satellite phones in the days immediately after the shooting.
The three satellite phones were in the hands of Italian intelligence officials Friday and were expected in Rome as early as Saturday, ANSA and Apcom news agency reported. Experts were to examine them next week to find out who Calipari and the other agent — who with Sgrena was wounded in the shooting — spoke to in the time between their arrival in Baghdad that afternoon and the shooting.
Italy has said the shooting was an accident, but has also disputed some elements of the account given by the Americans.
The U.S. military said that the vehicle carrying the Italians was speeding and refused to stop, and that a U.S. patrol tried to warn the driver with hand and arm signals, by flashing white lights and firing shots in front of the car and into the car's engine block.
Berlusconi told the Senate this week that the car was traveling slowly and stopped immediately when a light was flashed at a checkpoint, before U.S. troops fired on the car.
Sgrena has said repeatedly said that no light was flashed at the vehicle and that no warning shots were fired.
In a parliament speech earlier this week, Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said photos of the vehicle, which is still in Iraq, show that the fire "hit the right side of the car."
The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has ordered an investigation into the shooting, to be led by a U.S. brigadier general with Italian officials' participation. That will include an examination of the Toyota Corolla the Italians were traveling in, which is expected to remain in Iraq for the time being, according to news reports.