Friday, June 24, 2005



Milan, 24 June (AKI) - An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 CIA agents for the abduction of an Egyptian cleric in the northern city of Milan and his transfer to Cairo, where he was then tortured until he partially lost the use of his legs. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was seized near his home in Milan on 17 February 2003. His capture is part of a controversial practice "extraordinary rendition" stepped up after the September 11 2001 attacks. Terror suspects are picked up irrespective of national laws and sent to third countries in what rights groups denounce as 'outsourcing torture'.
Milan daily Corriere della Sera reports that among those issued with arrest warrants on Thursday was the former US diplomatic consul in Milan, Robert Seldon Lady, who was replaced unexpectedly several months ago. Warrants were issued for ten men and three women, whose nationalities were not specified.

Abu Omar, had already been under surveillance by Italian police, because of suspected links with terrorist groups. Foreign intelligence sources say he had fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, before his arrival in Italy in 1997.

Two years ago, he left the house, telling his wife he was going to the mosque nearby. But he never arrived, after being cornered in a side street and bundled into a van.

Nothing more was heard of him until April 20, 2004, when he called his wife - whose phone line was still tapped - to tell her he was still alive. Some days later, he called his friend, the Egyptian imam in Milan, Mohammed Ridha, and told him all that had happened since he disappeared.

He told Ridha he had been driven to an American airbase, questioned and beaten, and the following day flown to Egypt where was handed over to the interior ministry. If he agreed to return to Italy and work as a secret agent, his interrogators told him, he would not be harmed.

Rejecting this offer he was sent to Tora high security prison camp in Egypt where he remained for more than a year. Omar told his friend he had been so badly beaten that he could hardly move his legs and had been tortured with electric cables.

On April 19, 2004, Omar was unexpectedly released, on the condition that he told no-one what had happened. However after the phone calls to his wife and Ridha, which were reported in the Italian newspapers, he was arrested and nothing more has been heard of him.

Fundamental in the investigation was the use by the CIA operatives of Italian cellphones. A total of 17 mobile phones were identified operating in the street where Omar was seized between 12.28 and 12.33 of 17 February 2003. Some of these were found to have placed calls to the US consulate in Milan and to a number in Virginia (where the CIA headquarters are based, at Langley). One mobile phone was traced as being located in Cairo the next day, the others led investigators to the luxury hotel where the group stayed and, consequently, to the identities - or false identities - of the agents.

Serving the arrest warrants may prove near impossible and the prospect of extraditing CIA agents to Italy seems even more remote.

The episode will however put the spotlight again on the controversial 'extraordinary rendition' practice. Human rights groups have strongly criticised the sending of terror suspects to third countries where they are tortured.

In Italy opposition politicians are demanding explanations from the government of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of President Bush as to whether Italian authorities were aware of what was going on.

Italy Judge Orders Arrest of 13 CIA Agents

Friday June 24, 2005 2:31 PM


Associated Press Writer

ROME (AP) - An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 CIA agents for allegedly helping deport an imam to Egypt as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts, an Italian official familiar with the investigation said Friday.

The agents are suspected in the seizure of an Egyptian-born imam identified as Abu Omar on the streets of Milan in February 2003, according to the official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome declined to comment.

Prosecutors believe the agents seized Omar as part of the CIA's ``extraordinary rendition'' program, in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, according to reports Friday in newspapers Corriere della Sera and Il Giorno.

Investigators traced the agents through check-in details at Milan hotels and their use of Italian cell phones during the operation, the reports said. All the agents are American and include three women, Il Giorno said.

The reports said another six agents were being investigated for helping prepare the operation.

They said police also received an eyewitness account from an Egyptian woman who heard Omar calling for help and saw him being bundled into a white van as he walked from his house to a mosque.

The report said Omar was taken to Aviano, a joint U.S.-Italian base north of Venice, and was flown from there to another U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, before being taken in a second jet to Cairo.

A judge also has issued a separate arrest warrant for Omar, news agencies ANSA and Apcom said. In that warrant, Judge Guido Salvini claimed the seizure of Omar represented a violation of Italian sovereignty, Apcom reported.

Earlier this month, Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro told The Associated Press that the prosecution was treating the disappearance of Omar as an abduction.

Spataro declined to say who was suspected for the alleged abduction, but he said Omar's disappearance damaged an ongoing operation by Italian authorities. He said he visited the air base in February.

Omar was believed to have fought with jihadists in Afghanistan and Bosnia, and prosecutors were seeking evidence against him before his disappearance, according to a report last year in La Repubblica newspaper, which cited intelligence officials.

Italian papers have reported that Omar, 42, called his wife and friends in Milan after his release last year, recounting he had been seized by Italian and American agents and taken to a secret prison in Egypt, where he was tortured with electric shocks.

Italian officials believe he now is living in Egypt, although Italian newspaper accounts suggested he was returned to custody shortly after his release.