Sgrena on Monday described her captivity in Iraq, the circumstances of her release and her narrow escape when US soldiers fired on the vehicle carrying her to Baghdad airport, killing Italian secret service officer Nicola Calipari on Friday.

Sgrena, who had been freed minutes before the shooting by her Iraqi captors after a month in captivity, is recovering in a Rome hospital from a bullet wound to the shoulder.

"I thought I had gained freedom when we headed for Baghdad airport in the car with Nicola, who had got me freed and who now sat beside me to provide me confidence and warmth," she said.

She said the car in which she and her Italian security escorts were travelling had already passed through several US checkpoints on the way to the airport - which was just about 700 metres ahead - when suddenly bullets begin flying without warning.

"There were no checkpoints around and our car was travelling at normal speed," she said.

"When the shooting began, he (Calipari) had thrown himself on me to protect me. I tried to help him but he was dying. Later I learned that he had been killed instantly.

Worst moment

Sgrena, who writes for the Italian daily Il Manifesto, called this the worst moment she had ever experienced. "Nicola protected me and saved my life by sacrificing his own," she told Aljazeera.

She said she has been told that Calipari was crucial in securing her freedom. "My family and the papers have told me that his role was vital as he maintained good relations with everybody."

The shooting has sparked outrage
in Italy

She described Calipari as "the symbol of her hopes", adding that "when I heard his voice, I realised that freedom was imminent".

Asked whether there was coordination between the Italian authorities in Baghdad and US forces, Sgrena said she has learned that the Italian intelligence officers accompanying her were in contact with the Italian authorities in Baghdad and in the Green Zone.

But there was no direct coordination between the Italian secret service officers and US forces, she said. "This has led me to believe that whatever direct coordination existed, must have existed between the Italian authorities on the ground and the US forces.

"I believe there was coordination and all the necessary steps had been taken with regard to the US forces. After all, we were heading for the airport which lies in the US zone of control."

Sgrena had called for the pullout
of Italian troops in a videotape

Questioned about her experience in captivity, Sgrena told Aljazeera she was treated well, particularly in matters of food and whatever else she needed, including medicines. But she added, "Being imprisoned in a room was neither pleasant nor easy."

Foreigners unwelcome

As for the possible motives behind the abduction, Sgrena said her captors insisted that "all means are justified to liberate Iraq since it is under occupation", adding that they did not want foreigners or journalists in their country.

She said: "This was what convinced me that it was impossible for me to go on working as a journalist in Iraq and that I would never return to the country."

On whether her captors had warned her that the US forces would never allow her to leave Iraq alive, Sgrena said this is what they told her: "Now you are free to leave. But you must be cautious, because the US forces and the Iraqi police may not be willing to let you leave Iraq alive."

She said her captors had told her they would do their best to secure a safe departure for me but that US forces might not permit this.

"I took it as some kind of an anti-American propaganda before I was freed," Sgrena said. "But when the shooting occurred [near the airport], I recalled their words. Curiously enough, it happened exactly as they had told me."