Italy was in shock Friday at the execution of a kidnapped journalist in Iraq, which Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi slammed as a return "to the dark times of barbarism," but he pledged Italian troops would stay. Speaking on state radio on Friday, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini described the killing of Enzo Baldoni as a "horrendous act, one which, however, will not affect our commitment in Iraq." Frattini said that the group which killed Baldoni, which calls itself the Islamic Army of Iraq, "is a terrorist organization which has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with civil or religious authorities (in Iraq), even the most extreme, for example (radical Shiite cleric) Moqtada al-Sadr. "They were terrorists, purely and simply," said Frattini, who was scheduled to address Italian parliamentarians about the killing later Friday. "Italy's commitment cannot and must not change, for two reasons: We are in Iraq because the (Prime Minister Iyad) Allawi government asked us to be there. We are there on a peace mission, as is the case in Afghanistan and Kosovo. "We are there for the good of the Iraqi people." However, the killing is likely to reopen debate over the involvement of Italy's nearly 3,000 troops in Iraq, already an unpopular decision by Berlusconi's government, which provoked massive street protests in Italian cities last year, informs the Daily Star. According to CBC News, Italy's prime minister vowed his country's troops would not leave Iraq, as the country mourned the slaying of an Italian journalist. Silvio Berlusconi denounced Friday the death of Enzo Baldoni, reportedly killed by militants in Iraq after Italy refused to withdraw its 3,000 troops. "There are no words to describe this inhuman act that with one blow wipes out centuries of civilization to bring us back to the dark ages of barbarity," Berlusconi said in a statement. At the Olympics in Athens, Italian and Iraqi soccer players wore black armbands as they played each other in a bronze medal match in honour of the freelance journalist. The Italian polo team also wore armbands and volleyball players wore a piece of black tape over their hearts. Pope John Paul II also condemned the killing. The Arab television station Al-Jazeera television reported Thursday that it received photos showing Baldoni being killed, but said it would not air the images out of sensitivity to viewers. In a video broadcast earlier this week, a militant group calling itself The Islamic Army in Iraq had threatened the safety of their 56-year-old hostage unless Italy left the country. Italy had rejected the group's demands. The crisis re-ignited public debate over Berlusconi's decision to send troops to Iraq after the ouster of Saddam Hussein. Before the war began, one million people marched through Rome to oppose the war, one of the biggest anti-war protests in Europe. The kidnappers of Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, taken hostage in Iraq, said they had killed him, al-Jazeera television reported Thursday. "We have received footage that showed Enzo Baldoni after he was killed," said an al-Jazeera official, who added that the channel had not decided whether to air the video. He declined to give further details, and there was no way to immediately verify the report. Italian newspapers said Baldoni and his driver-interpreter were caught in an ambush Friday between Baghdad and Najaf, scene of a Shiite Muslim rebellion. His driver was found dead on Saturday. On Tuesday, a group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq gave Italy 48 hours to withdraw its 2,700 troops from Iraq or, it said, Baldoni would be killed. Italy, which has the third-largest foreign military contingent in the country, refused to bow to the kidnappers' demands. A statement from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office said Italy would do everything possible to free Baldoni but that its troops would remain in Iraq. Baldoni, 56, was a reporter for the Milan-based weekly Diario and volunteered for the Red Cross while in Iraq, his daughter, Gabriella Baldoni, said Wednesday. "He was trying to save human lives in Najaf by helping a Red Cross convoy in a spirit of solidarity which has always underscored his thinking and his actions," she told RAI television, publishes Reuter.
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