June 25, 2005 in City

Judge orders CIA arrests

Victor Simpson Associated Press
 

at a glance

Background

Germano Dottori, a political analyst at the Center for Strategic Studies in Rome, said it is not unusual for intelligence agencies to have squabbles with allied countries, but he could not recall prosecutors directly involved in investigating or apprehending agents.

“At some point the Americans will begin to think they can’t trust the Italians,” Dottori said.

ROME — First the CIA agents allegedly seized the imam off the streets of Milan and bundled him into a van. Then they sent him to Egypt, where he said he was tortured.

Then the agents, who racked up $144,984 in hotel bills, reportedly went to Venice to celebrate.

An Italian judge Friday ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers for secretly transporting the Muslim preacher to Egypt as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts — a rare public objection to the practice by a close American ally.

The Egyptian was spirited away in 2003, purportedly as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval.

The arrest warrants were announced by the Milan prosecutor’s office, which has called the disappearance a kidnapping and a blow to an ongoing terrorism investigation in Italy. It said the imam was believed to belong to an Islamic terrorist group.

The 13 are accused of seizing Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, Milan prosecutor Manlio Claudio Minale said.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the CIA in Washington declined comment.

The prosecutor’s statement did not name the suspects, give their nationalities or mention the CIA by name. But an Italian official familiar with the investigation confirmed newspaper reports Friday that the suspects worked for the CIA.

The official also said there was no evidence Italians were involved or knew about the operation.

Minale said the suspects remain at large and Italian authorities will ask the United States and Egypt for assistance in the case.

The prosecutor’s office said Nasr was released after his interrogation but was arrested again later.

In March 2003, “U.S. authorities” told Italian police Nasr had been taken to the Balkans, the statement said. A year later, in April-May 2004, Nasr phoned his wife and another unidentified Egyptian citizen and told them he had been subjected to violent treatment by interrogators in Egypt, the statement said.

Italian newspapers have reported that Nasr, 42, said in the wiretapped calls that he was tortured with electric shocks.

On Friday, the Milan daily Corriere della Sera cited another imam as telling authorities Nasr was tortured after refusing to work in Italy as an informer. According to the testimony, he was hanged upside down and subjected to extreme temperatures and loud noise that damaged his hearing, Corriere reported.

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