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Last Updated: Sunday, 6 March 2005, 13:33 GMT
Nicola Calipari: An 'extraordinary hero'
Italian agent Nicola Calipari
Nicola Calipari had already freed two Italian hostages
On Friday, Nicola Calipari was an unknown Italian secret agent, close to completing another successful mission for his country.

A few hours and a selfless and fatal act later, he had become a hero mourned by his entire nation.

Calipari was on the verge of delivering Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena to safety after her hostage ordeal in Iraq, when their car came under US army fire.

She recalled that he "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".

Nicola Calipari was a beautiful person, a simple person. He was the person who freed me
Simona Torretta
Former Italian hostage

Doctors said he was struck in the temple by a single round and died instantly.

His sacrifice stunned Italy.

Crowds at football matches across the country observed a minute's silence, while there have been calls to rename a street after the 51-year-old intelligence officer.

When his coffin returned to Rome, the Italian president and prime minister were there to greet it.

President Azeglio Ciampi stood with his hands on the casket in silence for two minutes, later declaring that Calipari would be awarded the gold medal of valour for his heroism.

Nearby stood Calipari's wife Rosa Maria, and their 19-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

The coffin, wrapped in an Italian flag, was blessed by a military priest and Calipari's own brother, a priest who serves at the Vatican.

The Pope sent condolences and hailed Calipari a "hero".

Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena returns to a Rome airport
Giuliana Sgrena said she felt Calipari's last breath

The head of the Italian intelligence mission in Iraq had successfully headed negotiations for Ms Sgrena's release.

He had already overseen the release of two other Italian hostages in Iraq, aid workers Simona Toretta and Simona Pari, in September.

"He was an extraordinary man," Ms Sgrena's boyfriend Pier Scolari told the news agency Ansa.

"Nicola Calipari was a beautiful person, a simple person. He was the person who freed me," said Simona Torretta.

"We are very sorry. We owe these people so much," said Simona Pari's father, Luciano Pari.

The government announced Calipari's body would lie in state ahead of a state funeral.

Italy honours 'national hero' Calipari

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