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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 March, 2005, 10:38 GMT
Body of Italy agent returns home
An unidentified woman weeps as she sees the coffin of Nicola Calipari, Rome, Italy
Mr Calipari will be given a full state funeral on Monday
The body of an Italian secret service agent shot by US forces in Iraq moments after rescuing a hostage has returned to Italian soil.

Fifty-one-year-old Nicola Calipari died as he shielded journalist Giuliana Sgrena from gunshots fired at her car.

He had led the efforts to negotiate the release of the correspondent, held captive in Iraq for more than a month.

His coffin, draped in the green, red and white of the Italian flag, arrived in Rome early on Sunday morning.

Close relatives watched as it was met by a guard of honour, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the country's President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Disputed details

The coffin was blessed before being taken away in a hearse.

The body of Mr Calipari will lie in state in an imposing monument in the centre of Rome before a state funeral on Monday.

Giuliana Sgrena stepping off the plane in Rome
A rain of fire and bullets pummelled us, silencing for ever the happy voices of a few minutes before
Giuliana Sgrena

Details remain unclear about exactly what happened as the car carrying the Italian journalist, Mr Calipari and two other agents made its journey towards Baghdad's airport late on Friday.

The US military says that the car was speeding as it approached a checkpoint and that, after warning signals, they fired towards the vehicle.

Ms Sgrena has said the car was not going particularly fast.

Mr Calipari was caught by a bullet and Ms Sgrena was injured in the shoulder during the shooting.

Ms Sgrena was abducted on 4 February, and later appeared in a video begging for help and urging foreign troops to leave Iraq.

In an account for her newspaper, the left-wing daily Il Manifesto, on Sunday, she said her kidnappers had released her willingly.

She said news of her release "was the happiest moment as well as the most dangerous", because it meant uncertainty over what lay ahead.

"They [the kidnappers] said they were committed to releasing me, but that I had to be careful 'because there are Americans who don't want you to go back'," she said.

She said the words came back to haunt her when her car came under attack.

'Last breath'

When she got in the car, "Nicola" took off her blindfold and was "an avalanche of friendly phrases, jokes".

"Nicola Calipari was seated at my side. The driver had spoken twice to the embassy and to Italy that we were on our way to the airport that I knew was saturated with American troops. We were less than a kilometre they told me... when... I remember there was shooting.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (centre)
Silvio Berlusconi (centre) was at the airport to greet Calipari's coffin

"At that point a rain of fire and bullets pummelled us, silencing for ever the happy voices of a few minutes before. The driver began screaming that we were Italian, 'We're Italian! We're Italian!

"Nicola Calipari fell on top of me to protect me, and immediately, I repeat immediately, I felt his last breath and he died on top of me.

"As for the rest, I can't talk about it yet."

The BBC's David Willey in Rome says Mr Calipari is being treated as a hero in Rome - he has been given Italy's highest honour for bravery and a street in the capital has been named after him.

Although the US has pledged a full inquiry into what happened and President George W Bush has personally expressed his regret over the incident, it threatens to have continuing political fallout in Rome, he says.

Much of the country was opposed to the US-led war in Iraq and the government's decision to send 3,000 Italian troops to Iraq.

Italy honours 'national hero' Calipari

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