Recalling the horror the nation felt when its first hostage was killed in Iraq, word that a second Italian hostage was slain brought condemnation from the pope Friday and fueled debate over Italy's role in the war-torn country.
At the Olympics in Athens, Greece, Italian soccer players wore black armbands during their bronze medal match against Iraq in honor of Enzo Baldoni, a 56-year-old freelance journalist. The Italian polo team wore armbands in its 11-7 win and volleyball players wore a piece of black tape over their hearts during their match with Russia.
"It is in memory of Baldoni. It was also a statement against the war, of which we don't approve at all," said water polo player Fabio Bencivenga, dedicating the win over Croatia to the fallen journalist, says Boston Globe.
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies said the organization approved Italy's request for the gesture because "this is a unique case and the IOC is sympathetic for what happened."
Although some officials had said the Iraqi soccer players would also wear black armbands and a moment of silence would precede the game, neither happened. Soccer's governing body, FIFA, said it was asked to approve the Italian request to wear the armbands, but a minute of silence and Iraqi armbands were never discussed.
Before the game, both teams posed for photos together, and leading Olympic officials from Iraq and Italy shook hands and jointly expressed condolences for Baldoni's killing, reports San Francisco Chronicle.
According to the Hindustan Times, an Islamist group calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq executed Baldoni after holding him for a week, Arabic-language satellite news channel Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday.
The Qatar-based channel said it had received a videotape showing the journalist after his execution, but had decided not to release it as it would be too shocking for viewers.
Al-Jazeera quoted a statement attributed to the kidnappers saying the Italian had been slain under sharia law.
It said the decision "was taken after the refusal by Italy to reply favourably to the demand (by the group) to withdraw its soldiers from Iraq within 48 hours.
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