Reports: Italians ask U.S. authorities to release car for probe of agent's slaying

The Italian justice minister has asked U.S. authorities to release the car in which an Italian intelligence agent was shot to death by American troops in Baghdad, newspapers said Thursday.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli sent an official request to the U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday to have the vehicle released so that it can be examined by Italian ballistics experts, the Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica dailies reported.

The Justice Ministry in Rome said nobody was immediately available to confirm the reports.

The papers said the request came after the U.S. command in Iraq reportedly blocked two Italian policemen from examining the car, citing security concerns. On Wednesday the U.S. military in Baghdad said it did not have information on that report by Corriere della Sera.

The Toyota Corolla remains in U.S. hands at Baghdad airport where it had been rented, according to the reports.

Italian authorities say inspecting the car is crucial in assessing what happened on March 4, when U.S. troops opened fire on the Toyota carrying Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari, another Italian intelligence officer and journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who had just been released by her captors after a month of captivity in Iraq.

Calipari died on the spot; the other two were wounded. On Thursday, Sgrena, who suffered a shrapnel wound in her shoulder, left the Rome military hospital were she was being treated since her return to Italy on March 5.

Italian prosecutors investigating the shooting have received photographs of the car but want to analyze bullet entry holes and the vehicle's engine, La Repubblica said.

Calipari's killing outraged Italians and prompted Premier Silvio Berlusconi to demand that Washington provide an explanation.

Italy agrees that the shooting was an accident but disputes some key elements of the U.S. account.

The U.S. military said the driver was speeding and refused to stop, and that a U.S. patrol tried to warn the driver with hand and arm signals, and by flashing white lights and firing shots in front of the car and into the car's engine block.

Berlusconi said the car was traveling slowly, noting that it was nighttime, and stopped immediately when a light was flashed at it, shortly before U.S. troops fired on the car. Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said the gunfire appeared to have hit the right side of the car.

Washington has ordered an investigation into the shooting to be led by a U.S. brigadier general, with the participation of Italian officials. The joint commission is expected to release its findings by mid-April

Associated Press

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