The Assassination of an Italian Journalist in Mogadishu
Premeditated murder and alleged cover-up by the Italian government
Ilaria Alpi was born in Rome on May 24, 1961, to Giorgio and Luciana Alpi. She was an only child. Ilaria studied literature, graduating from the University of Rome’s Department of Oriental Studies. She was fluent in Arabic and reported news from Lebanon, Kuwait, and Egypt for the Italian newspapers Paese Sera and L’unita before she landed a position at the RAI- Radiotelevisione Italiana, Italy’s national broadcaster.
Ilaria loved her job despite the danger that came with it. On this, she said, “I know this can be dangerous, but it is better than covering the same old things in Rome. I really enjoy it.” Ilaria was not the only journalist killed in Mogadishu covering Operation Restore Hope. At least five other journalists were also murdered in Mogadishu, four journalists on July 12, 1993, while a sniper killed the other on June 18, 1993. However, Ilaria’s murder was premeditated and suppressed with lies and alleged cover-up by the Italian government. She was investigating weapons supply to warlords and the toxic dumping of nuclear waste in Somalia.
Mogadishu of 1994
Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia, saw the brunt of war after the ousting of dictator Siad Barre, the country’s former president. The rebels who fought against the dictatorship could not form a national unity government and started to fight amongst themselves. The conflict quickly escalated to a clannish civil war. The war, coupled with famine, claimed the lives of almost half a million Somalis. Warring clan leaders now turned warlords made it difficult for relief agencies to reach hungry and war-weary Somalis as the relief supplies were robbed and sold in the black market for profit. As a result, a United Nations Task Force codenamed Operation Restore Hope, a US-led multinational force, landed in Mogadishu in 1992. Their mission was to provide a protected environment for the relief agencies to conduct their humanitarian operations safely.
Investigations of weapons supply and nuclear waste
Ilaria delved into the gun smuggling and nuclear waste story, traveling secretly as far as the north of the country, Bosaso, to interview sources. In an interview with a prominent clan leader, Muse Boqor, who acted as a mediator for hijacked ship owners and pirates, Ilaria asked him about the Italians cooperating with Somali warlords and supplying them with weapons. She also asked him about toxic waste from Italy buried in a highway constructed with Italian funds. Muse Boqor tried to evade Ilaria’s questions but understanding his hesitance, she told her cameraman to switch off the camera. Miran Hrovatin, the cameraman, pointing the camera away but still recording, Muse said, “Things came from Rome, Brescia or Torino.” Brescia is Italy’s arms manufacturing center. Muse Boqor was not done. He further stated, “those people have much power and contacts.” Days later, after this interview, Ilaria was assassinated.
Michael Maren, a journalist who has extensive knowledge of Somalia and had contacts in Bosaso, recalling the day he met Ilaria, the same day she would be killed, says, “Ilaria asked me if I’d have a free moment to talk that evening. She seemed shy, almost apologetic about imposing on my time. I assured her that it was no problem and that I’d be willing to talk with her whenever she wanted, even immediately if it would help. She couldn’t talk right then, she said. There was someplace she needed to be.” Forty-five minutes later, she was murdered.
Events leading to the assassination
- Without informing anyone, Ilaria and Miran Hrovatin sneak out of the city and head for Bosaso.
- The Italian ambassador comes to Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu, where she had been staying, inquiring about Ilaria to the amusement of the hotel owner and staff at the incredible security risk the ambassador was taking. The infamous Black hawk down happened only five months earlier.
- Ilaria and Miran return to Mogadishu from Bosaso on Sunday, March 20, 1994. Her escort didn’t meet her at the airport; they make their way to the Sahafi Hotel, where they stayed and ordered lunch.
- Ilaria phones Rome, asking for a 7 pm satellite time. She tells her producer that she has good footage, then tells him, “we can speak about the story of the day later. I am in a hurry.” She then phones her mother. This is the last time the two will ever speak to each other.
- At 2:45 pm, Ilaria and Miran leave their hotel and head for Amana Hotel.
- At 3:00 pm, Ilaria and Miran arrive at Amana Hotel. A blue Land Rover pulls up to a tea stall opposite Amana Hotel. The occupants disembark and order tea.
- Minutes later, Ilaria and Miran come out of Amana Hotel and get into their pickup truck. The men with the Land Rover quickly put down their tea and go after them, cutting them off and shooting Ilaria and Miran dead at point-blank range. Neither the driver nor the bodyguard is harmed.
The suspects of this assassination were never caught. The Italian Army refused to offer medical assistance to the victims. It would not have made any difference. The victims were dead; however, the Italian Army did not know that. No forensic teams were also called, no investigation of the crime scene was carried out. The car was never forensically examined. If that was suspicious, what followed was even more puzzling.
The shady Italian businessman
The man in the middle of Ilaria’s story was an Italian by the name of Giancarlo Marrochino. He was a “businessman” in the trucking business operating in Somalia. He is also the man behind the highway project, the same road where toxic waste materials were allegedly buried in the guise of “Highway construction.”
Giancarlo Marrochino lived in Somalia and was married to a Somali woman. It was alleged that Giancarlo and the Italian Army were business partners. US intelligence agents also suspected that the Italian Army sold weapons they confiscated from the warlords to Giancarlo. He then refurbished and sold them back to the warlords for a profit. He was also fond of hosting Italian journalists in his villa and made friends with them, often letting them use his cars and bodyguards. Ilaria was the exception; she refused to stay with him because of her misgivings of his nefarious dealings. The Americans’ accusation of Giancarlo was so strong that they ordered his arrest and deportation.
Giancarlo’s presence at the crime scene of the slain journalists raises more suspicions. Footage of the murder scene shows the bodies of Ilaria and Miran being loaded into one of Giancarlo’s trucks. With Ilaria’s press badge, radio, and notebooks in his hands, Giancarlo stares into the camera and indifferently says, “they have been at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Ilaria and Miran’s bodies were transported to Italy, where her notebooks got lost along with everything else, including the cameras. The family of Ilaria was told their daughter’s body is riddled with machine-gun fire and would be unbearable for them to see her. They agreed and buried their daughter. It later emerged that Ilaria, contrary to the official explanation, had only one gunshot wound. This robbed the family of saying goodbye to their only child.
An innocent man behind bars
A few years later, reports emerged that the Italian Army were involved in the torture of Somalis. A couple of the men who claimed they were tortured were flown from Mogadishu to Italy to give their testimony. One such person was Hashi Omar Hassan, a young Somali man and a victim of the alleged torture. As he reported to the police to give his testimony, he was arrested and charged for the murder of Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin.
The Italian government wanted to close the case, and Hashi was the perfect scapegoat. “He killed the journalists in revenge for having been tortured by the Italian peacekeepers,” was the Italian government’s rationale. Among those who fought for his release were the Alpi family, who were convinced that Hashi was a fall guy. Having served more than 16 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, the courts overturned the conviction and released him. He was awarded three million euros (3.5mllion dollars) for wrongful imprisonment.
Giorgio and Luciana Alpi died before they could get justice for their daughter. They fought tooth and nail to keep the case open despite heavy opposition from the prosecutor’s office. In 2009, Francesco Fonti, a member of the ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate, claimed that the journalists were killed because they have seen a toxic waste shipment that arrived in Bosaso. Despite his allegations, the authorities failed to pursue this line of inquiry.
In Ilaria’s memory, the Ilaria Alpi Award is awarded to the best television investigative journalism devoted to peace and stability. The murder remains unsolved, officially.
Note: My focus was Ilaria Alpi, but the tragic murder of Miran Hrovatin, the cameraman, deserves an equal mention. However, there was no sufficient information about him in the course of my research.
Ilaria Alpi and Miran Hrovatin’s case
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Thanks for reading
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