8/28/2005

Accidental Shooting?

Maurizio Scelli, the outgoing commissioner of the Italian Red Cross, said the deal to free the two Italian women, Simona Pari and Simona Torretta, was kept secret from U.S. officials."The mediators asked us to treat and save the lives of four presumed terrorists sought by the Americans, wounded in combat. We hid them and brought them to the doctors with the Red Cross, who operated on them," Scelli was quoted as saying in La Stampa newspaper."We also treated four of their children, sick with leukaemia."If confirmed, the deal would be an embarrassment for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- who denied last September that Italy had bowed to ransom demands from the kidnappers to win the release of the two women.

Berlusconi's office did not immediately comment when contacted on Thursday by Reuters.Scelli, who was present at the Sept. 28 handover of the two aid workers, said he was deeply involved in the negotiations.He told La Stampa that the decision to hide details about the operation from U.S. officials was approved by Gianni Letta, Berlusconi's right-hand man."Nobody should know about it. Above all, the Americans should not know," he said."Keeping the Americans in the dark about our efforts to free the hostages was a non-negotiable condition to guarantee the safety of the hostages and ourselves."Scelli said that he had consulted at the time with Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari, who was shot dead in March this year by U.S. troops at a Baghdad checkpoint during a subsequent rescue operation for another Italian hostage.Italy and the United States issued differing reports on Calipari's killing, with the U.S. military pinning much of the blame on the Italians, partly for failing to communicate that a rescue operation was underway.

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