Italian court drops murder case against US soldier

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ROME, Oct 25 (Reuters) An Italian court dropped a murder case against a US soldier who killed an Italian intelligence agent at a checkpoint in Iraq on the grounds that it did not have jurisdiction, lawyers said today.

US soldier Mario Lozano from the National Guard in New York was being tried in absentia in Rome for shooting Italian agent Nicola Calipari as he escorted a newly freed Italian hostage out of Iraq in 2005.

Lozano's Italian defence lawyer Alberto Biffani, hired by the US Department of Defense, told reporters he was ''very satisfied'' with the outcome.

Lozano, who was a gunner at a checkpoint on the road to Baghdad airport, says he just did his duty by opening fire on a car carrying Calipari and freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena after the driver ignored warning shots and refused to stop.

Washington has refused to hand him over for trial.

''The court has granted our request on lack of jurisdiction so we win this case,'' said Biffani. ''Obviously the public prosecutor can decide to appeal.'' Lozano has also blamed the Italian journalist whose release Calipari had just secured before he was shot for creating such a dangerous situation. ''Because of her I caused another family grief,'' he told Reuters in an interview back in May.

But Italian prosecutors had also sought to convict Lozano for the attempted murder of the journalist, who was wounded in the shooting. She told reporters at the court house that the decision not to try Lozano was ''absolutely incomprehensible''.

''It's been hard because the Americans threw up many obstacles ... ,'' she said. ''But for us Italians to renounce what we could have done to learn the truth is a denial of Italian sovereignty and I find that very serious.'' The court will not make public the reasoning behind the decision for up to two months, but Biffani said his argument that ''Mr Lozano was part of the United States armed forces'' and as such had ''immunity'' appeared to have won the day.

Dismissal of the case should remove a thorn from relations between Washington and Rome, which has described the killing as an accident but has also criticised the US military for leaving inexperienced troops at a poorly set-up roadblock.

REUTERS SYU MIR KP1746

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