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U.S. soldier charged in death of Italian agent

February 08, 2007|From Reuters

ROME — A judge ordered a U.S. soldier to stand trial in the slaying of an Italian intelligence agent in Iraq in 2005 while the agent was escorting a rescued hostage to safety, court officials said Wednesday.

Spc. Mario Lozano of the Army's 69th Infantry Regiment was charged with voluntary homicide in the shooting of Nicola Calipari at a checkpoint near Baghdad's airport.

Lozano probably will be tried in absentia. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it was "a fair assumption" that the U.S. military would not hand over Lozano for trial.

"As far as the Defense Department is concerned, we and the Ministry of Defense in Italy consider this a closed matter," Whitman said.

Both countries have called the death an accident.

Italy's independent prosecutors disagreed, and Judge Sante Spinaci granted their request to charge Lozano, who also faces two counts of attempted murder. A second Italian agent and the rescued hostage were wounded in the shooting.

Lozano's Italian defense lawyer, Fabrizio Cardinali, said the judge's decision surprised him. He said Lozano "was carrying out his duty, which is something that the judge did not consider relevant."

Calipari became a hero in Italy for securing the release of kidnapped left-wing journalist Giuliana Sgrena. He died trying to shield her from gunfire at a U.S. checkpoint after her release.

Sgrena told reporters, "We don't want to make Mario Lozano the scapegoat, but we want to find out who was responsible and have justice."

The trial will begin April 17.

Lozano, of the New York Army National Guard, was a gunner at the U.S. checkpoint on the road to the airport. A U.S. report says Lozano tried to signal to Calipari's car with a spotlight, then aimed a green laser pointer at the windshield. The report says he fired warning shots before shooting at the vehicle.

Sgrena, who spent 24 days in a hospital, said she was seeking damages from Washington.

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