MILAN, Italy – U.S. allies have begun to resist Washington’s secretive role in spiriting away terror suspects: Italy is investigating the disappearance of one accused militant as a kidnapping, Sweden wrote rules to assert its authority over outside agents and Canada is holding hearings after one of its citizens was sent to Syria.
At least two of the cases bear the hallmarks of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program – stepped up after Sept. 11 – in which the Bush administration has transferred dozens of suspects to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture.
In Italy, an Egyptian-born imam identified as Abu Omar had already drawn the attention of Italian anti-terrorism officials when he vanished off the streets of Milan two years ago, reportedly bundled into a van and flown back to Egypt from a joint U.S.-Italian air base.
“The prosecution is certain it was a kidnapping,” prosecutor Armando Spataro told the Associated Press last week. He would not say who is suspected, citing judicial secrecy as the investigation is still under way.
Italian news reports say the CIA was believed to have played a role in the disappearance, and opposition politicians have demanded explanations from the government of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a close ally of President Bush.
Citing conversations recorded by Italian anti-terrorism officials in a wiretap, the Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica newspapers reported that Omar, 42, called his wife and friends in Milan after his release last year. He recounted how 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 say he is now living in Egypt, although Italian newspaper accounts suggested he was returned to custody in Egypt shortly after his release.
Asked about news reports alleging U.S. involvement, a U.S. Embassy spokesman in Rome, Ben Duffy, said, “We do not comment on intelligence matters.”
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