The bodies of six Italian soldiers killed in one of the deadliest suicide attacks targeting NATO troops in Afghanistan arrived in Italy Sunday in an emotional homecoming at Rome’s Ciampino airport.
Family of the dead, President Giorgio Napolitano and other political leaders were present as the C-130 military plane carrying the tricolour-draped coffins with their remains touched down at 0730 GMT.
The six coffins were blessed by a priest before a military ceremony that was also attended by Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa and the leaders of the upper and lower houses of parliament, Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini.
Earlier a special flight brought home four Italians who had been wounded in the attack that cost the lives of their comrades.
The four who are not critically wounded were taken by ambulance to a military hospital in Rome.
The Italian government declared days of national mourning for Sunday and Monday, when the six will be given a state funeral in the Italian capital’s Saint Paul Outside the Walls basilica around noon.
The six paratroopers will then be taken to their respective home towns where they will be buried.
On Saturday the six coffins draped in the Italian flag and topped with small cushions carrying the regimental purple berets of the fallen soldiers had been displayed at the main NATO base near Kabul airport where soldiers from 40 countries paid silent homage.
An Italian priest recited prayers after which the national anthem was sung.
Saverio Cucinotta, a spokesman for the contingent based in Kabul, said the six fallen soldiers had arrived in May.
In Thursday’s attack the suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into the paratroopers’ two-vehicle convoy in central Kabul not far from the US embassy on the busy airport road, killing and wounding the soldiers and 10 Afghan civilians.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said after the attack that Rome now wants to trim its deployment in Afghanistan but only with agreement from NATO partners.
“We are keen to bring our boys home as soon as possible,” Berlusconi said.
Italy is the sixth biggest contributor to more than 100,000 NATO and US-led forces fighting in Afghanistan, deploying about 3,250 troops.
The bombing, claimed by the Taliban, was the third in Kabul in a month, in an apparent spike of attacks on international military installations and personnel in the capital.
Foreign military deaths in Afghanistan are at record levels — 357 this year according to icasualties.org — and the mounting number of body bags coming home has sent support for the war plummeting in Europe and the United States.