Fresh doubts over Ilaria Alpi conviction

Driver 'an unreliable witness' - Italy envoy

(ANSA) - Rome, April 4 - Fresh doubts have emerged over the conviction of Somali man Omar Hashi Hassan in the 1994 murder in Mogadishu of Italian reporter Ilaria Alpi and cameraman Miran Hrovatin.
    According to the Italian diplomat who investigated the case in Somalia, former ambassador Giuseppe Cassini, the driver who acted as a key witness for the prosecution was "an unreliable individual who would do anything to survive".
    Cassini's declassified testimony was published by La Repupbblica newspaper Monday.
    In January a Perugia appeals court granted a defence motion to reopen the trial of Hassan.
    The court agreed to admit new evidence that has since emerged that could reverse the conviction.
    The defence is seeking exoneration for their client, who was released to the custody of social services in June last year after serving 16 years of a 26-year sentence.
    Alpi, 32, and Hrovatin, 45, were ambushed and shot in their jeep in Mogadishu by a seven-man commando on March 20, 1994.
    Photos taken of the dead body of Alpi, who worked for public broadcaster RAI's third channel, and a medical report on the deaths, along with other key evidence including Alpi's notes, camera and video cassettes, mysteriously went missing on the journey back from Africa to Italy, fuelling suspicions of a cover-up.
    In February last year, a key witness for the prosecution said that Hassan was "innocent".
    Speaking to RAI Channel 3, Ahmed Ali Rage claimed that he was asked to testify against Hassan.
    "I did not see who fired the shots," he reportedly told RAI 3, recanting his testimony.
    Alpi, 32, and Hrovatin, 45, were ambushed and shot in their jeep in Mogadishu by a seven-man commando unit on March 20, 1994.
    Initially, it was thought that the journalist was murdered as revenge for clashes which had broken out between the militias of Somalia's warlords and Italian peacekeepers.
    But a 1999 book by Alpi's parents called The Execution alleged that Alpi and Hrovatin were killed to stop them revealing what they knew about an international arms and toxic-waste ring implicating high-level political, military and economic figures in both countries.
    The book accuses the Italian secret services of playing a major role in this ring.
    Hassan, who travelled to Italy in 1998 to give evidence in a probe into brutality by Italian soldiers, was acquitted of involvement in the two murders at the end of a first trial in July 1999.
    But he was found guilty by an appeals court in 2000 and sentenced to life in prison.
    Italy's supreme Cassation Court upheld the guilty verdict in October 2001 but reduced the sentence from life to 26 years because it said the crimes were not premeditated.
    Hassan's lawyers have claimed he was not in Mogadishu at the time of the killing, and say he was tricked into coming to Italy.
   

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