Nur al-Cubicle

A blog on the current crises in the Middle East and news accounts unpublished by the US press. Daily timeline of events in Iraq as collected from stories and dispatches in the French and Italian media: Le Monde (Paris), Il Corriere della Sera (Milan), La Repubblica (Rome), L'Orient-Le Jour (Beirut) and occasionally from El Mundo (Madrid).

Friday, March 11, 2005

Sgrena: Missing Cellphones

Update 11 March.

Three satellite phones belonging to Calipari and his Carabinieri assistant were recovered and handed over to judicial officials in Rome.

More developments in the Sgrena Affair. PM Berlusconi lied to Italian Parliament on 9 March when he said no ransom had been paid in the release of kidnapped reporter Giuliana Sgrena. Below is an article by Claudia Fusani of the Rome newspaper La Repubblica which appeared in the 10 March edition.

Between 4 and 5 pm in the afternoon of March 4 (Italian time), two Italian intelligence officers paid a ransom for the release of Giuliana Sgrena. A amount of between 6 and 8 million euros was handed over to a representative of the Committee of Iraqi Ulema, the most powerful Sunni religious organization in Iraq, in Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

At the exact moment of the handover of the cash, following several phone calls, Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari, in the company of a major of the Carabinieri, rented a gray Toyota Corolla at the Baghdad airport rental counter. The Corolla then rendezvoused with a van in the northern outskirts of Baghdad which led them to a location for handover of the hostage.

The rendezvous point was also communicated by phone from Abu Dhabi where the money exchanged hands. Several important details pertaining to the ransom could be gathered from records of cell and satellite phones usued by the SISMI (Italian military intelligence) teams: Calipari's team in action in Baghdad and the other in Abu Dhabi. All those devices are now missing. In the Toyota Cprolla itself, there were 5 devices alone but only two have arrived in Rome and haven't been forensically examined. There is no trace of the other three phones.

We have no authority over the US military command to get them back, assuming they have them, says an official of the Rome Public Prosecutor's Office. Also, the issue of the paid ransom is not part of either of the two ongoing investigations: 1) The homicide Nicola Calipari and the attempted homicide of Giuliana Sgrena and the Carabinieri major and 2) the kidnapping of Ms. Sgrena.

The narrative concerning Abu Dhabi, the 8 million euros, the charismatic head of the Ulema Committee in the role of bagman-mediator for the kidnappers has been in all the Italian papers every day since 5 March, without any denials being issued. How very odd that the Italian Foreign Minister didn't mention a ransom in yesterday's TV interview to which he vaguely alluded during his testimony to Parliament.

On the question of the ransom, it is known that the government, the Parliamentary majority and the opposition have jointly agreed to negotiate and pay when an Italian life is in danger. But it is taboo to mention it in pubic because it is against US policy and UN Resolution 1546, which forbids money transfers to the rebels or the terrorists. This is why a low profile was adopted by Calipari for the entire Sgrena operation.

The US military command was informed on 4 March of a covert action underway led by Italian intelligence but it was not given the details. Neither was a US patrol less than one kilometer from the airport.

Yesterday, Italian investigating MPs Ionta, Saviotti and Amelio met again in the afternoon. Still missing--and this is extremely serious--are depositions from General [Mario] Marioli, the military communications liaison, and the SISMI station chief in Baghdad. It has been decided to again question (former hostages) Simona Pari, Simona Torretta and (Red Cross Director) Maurizio Scelli who are accused of lying to magistrates concerning that hostage release.

Nicola Calipari was involved in that negotiation, too, but it has only been revealed now. Examination of seventy forensic photos of the Toyota seems to exclude the presence of a fourth passenger seated alongside the driver. That seat clearly shows signs of a bullet hole. If anyone had been seated there, they'd either be seriously wounded or dead, say the three MPs.

There remains the possibility that there was a second vehicle, perhaps the van that led them to the hostage release location. But that's just one more mystery.


Blogger Traveller said...

Good, it's working again!

That's very interesting. There had been intimations that cellphones had been taken by the military but nothing as concrete.

8:00 PM  
Blogger Traveller said...

This might be of interest, if you haven't seen it already.

8:09 PM  

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