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Italian marines face probe by India's anti-terror agency

Involvement of the agency could mean death penalty

Italian marines face probe by India's anti-terror agency
Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone shot two Kerala fishermen whom they say they mistook for pirates
Swati Deb, New Delhi

April 26, 2013

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The Supreme Court of India on Friday ordered the anti-terror National Investigating Agency (NIA) to take over the investigation of the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines.

The order comes despite protests by the Italian government over fears the marines could face the death penalty.

The two marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, shot and killed two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in southern India in February 2012 while guarding the Italian oil tanker Enrica Lexie. The marines said they mistook the fishermen for pirates.

The court also ruled that the marines must remain on bail until the completion of the investigation. The men are currently staying at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.

Lawyer Ashish Kumar said there is "still scope" for avoiding the death penalty as there are diplomatic issues involved.

Italy has long questioned the Indian judiciary’s right to try the men as it maintains the incident took place in international waters.

There was a row between the two countries when Italy refused to send the two marines back to India last month. They had been allowed home to vote in the country’s elections.

The marines returned only after India assured the Italian government they would not be tried under charges that could lead to a death sentence.

But on April 10, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his Italian counterpart Mario Monti that "any view on specific aspects" of the case, including the possibility of a death sentence, would depend on the outcome of the investigation.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has already charged the government with going soft on the marines.

BJP parliamentarian Ravi Shankar Prasad said that while there are 2,020 foreign convicts in jails across India and 3,601 foreigners undergoing trials, there is no precedent for people awaiting trial to be allowed to go to festivals or elections in their own country.

"Why this special indulgence for the Italian marines?" he asked.

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