For another, a brave, pointless death

ITALY: Victim was seeking 'ticket to happiness'

He died, said Franco Frattini, Italy's Foreign Minister, like a hero. With his captors pointing their guns at him, Fabrizio Quattrocchi groped for the hood strapped around his head and tried to rip it off.

"I'll show you how an Italian dies," he screamed at them. Then they shot him.

He was the first hostage to die since the spate of abductions began last week: executed in cold blood, a bullet to the nape of the neck, in retribution, the "Green Brigades of the Prophet" declared in a statement, because "your Prime Minister says that the withdrawal of the Italian troops from Iraq is out of the question".

Mr Berlusconi, a loyal ally of the United States President George Bush, sent almost 3,000 troops to Iraq, but there have been ongoing serious misgivings among the general public.

As in Spain, where the new Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, reaffirmed his pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq before 30 June unless the UN takes charge, there has been widespread public resistance to the country's involvement in Iraq.

The misgivings have been exacerbated by the killing of Mr Quattrocchi. As news of the tragedy unfolded on Italian television, one relative asked despairingly: "What can be done about this?"

The Arab news channel al-Jazeera did not broadcast the video of Mr Quattrocchi's execution, describing it as "a very horrible death". The last pictures of Mr Quattrocchi alive were those broadcast by the same channel the previous day when the Green Brigades put their prisoners on display.

It is not the way his family would chose to remember him: squatting awkwardly on the floor in a sweat-stained t-shirt, passport gripped in one hand, shoulders hunched, brow furrowed, face clouded with emotion.

But Mr Quattrocchi had been very happy to go to Baghdad: it was his big break. Like many working-class southern Italians, his family's story was a quest for a modicum of prosperity. Mr Quattrocchi, 36, was born in Catania, Sicily, but when he was a child the family moved to the far north, where there were jobs. They settled in San Martino in Genoa, where his father opened a bakery. They all mucked in, Mr Quattrocchiand his brother Davide, as well as their father, mother and sister Gabriella. Mr Quattrocchi would get up at 3am to light the oven and get the first batch of bread away.

But baking bread was not his goal in life. His spare time was spent in the gym, pumping iron. He obtained a black belt in Taekwondo.

When his father died in 2000 the family sold the business and Mr Quattrocchi began to explore his options.

Strong and big, he started working part-time as a bouncer in the local night clubs and as a bodyguard. When war broke out in Afghanistan, he volunteered to join the Italian Army. He was turned down.

But then came the opportunity to work for a different sort of army. For two years he was on the books of an Italian agency called IBSA, which provides bodyguards and detectives, and through them he was introduced to DTS Security, an American firm hiring bodyguards and security personnel to go to Iraq.

Mr Quattrocchi thus became part of the shadowy, informal army in Iraq, now numbering 20,000 according to some estimates, protecting the convoys travelling towards Baghdad and the host of foreign consultants, engineers and businessmen edging gingerly back into the country.

Despite his build, Mr Quattrocchi was no musclebound lout. "He was big and heavy but he never hurt a fly," said his girlfriend, Alice. She tells how last summer they were on a date when four youths started abusing them. Mr Quattrocchi was content to tell them to get lost and inform the police.

The trip to Iraq was no daredevil gesture: it was meant to be his ticket to happiness. He would come back with a load of money, buy a little house in the country, get married, raise children, live in peace. "He convinced himself he had to go because of the good prospects of making some money," Alice said.

But wasn't he worried about the risks? "Originally he thought he was only going to stay for a month, a month and a half," his family said. "In December the situation was not as bad as it is today. But then his mission got extended."

"He got in over his head," said his brother, Davide, who knew what he was talking about - he had also worked as a security guard in Iraq. Mr Quattrocchi had followed his example.

"But he showed he was up to it, thanks to his balance and rectitude," Davide added. And with his last gesture he showed what he was made of: he didn't care to die like a dog.

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