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Jet brings body of Italian hostage slain in Nigeria to Rome; autopsy planned
ROME (AP) ' The body of an Italian hostage found slain in Nigeria during a botched British-Nigerian rescue attempt arrived Saturday in Rome, where authorities are upset they were not consulted on the effort to free him.
Franco Lamolinara's remains were flown in an Italian Air Force jet to Rome's Ciampino military airport, where officers stood at attention in a sign of respect before a hearse took them to a hospital morgue for an autopsy.
The examination could help determine just how Lamolinara and a British colleague who also perished in the rescue operation died ' either at the hands of the captors, in crossfire or accidentally, by friendly fire.
Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported Saturday the gunbattle lasted up to seven hours. It pitted British and Nigerian special forces positioned outside the compound in Sokoto, Nigeria, against the captors, allegedly linked to al-Qaida, on the inside.
Lamolinara, an engineer, was working in Nigeria when he was kidnapped in May along with British engineer Chris McManus, who was also found dead during the rescue operation. It is unclear how the men died, though British officials have said there are "indications" their captors killed them.
In the face of questions from Italy, Britain has said there wasn't time to confer on the rescue bid. Italy's president has accused Britain of an "inexplicable" failure to consult with Italian officials before the bid to free the hostage was launched.
An autopsy is also planned on McManus' body. Autopsy results could take days.
Italian politicians have been pressing the Italian government to demand explanations from both Britain and Nigeria on just what happened, and why Rome was left out of the decision.
Some political leaders have been using the flap to draw attention to what they contend is a lack of international savvy on the part of Premier Mario Monti's government, which is made up of economists and other technocrats. Monti took office in November to try to save the country from financial disaster.
Meanwhile, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sent letters of condolence to the leaders of Britain and Italy, according to a government statement Saturday.
The letters, one to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the other to Monti, said "the hearts of the people and government of Nigeria go out to the members of the immediate families of the victims in their moment of grief," the statement said.
Jonathan also said "the Nigerian government remains resolutely committed to facing up squarely to the challenge of terrorism on our shores and in the international community," according to the statement.
Associated Press writer Bashir Adigun in Abuja, Nigeria, contributed to this report.