By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 21, 2005
CAIRO -- An Egyptian man who was whisked off the streets of Milan by CIA operatives in 2003 and flown to Egypt is being held in a prison here more than two years later but has not been charged with an offense, according to an Egyptian lawyer who has tracked the case.
Montasser Zayat said the abducted man, Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, was briefly freed from an Egyptian prison in April 2004, then taken back into custody after he telephoned his wife, Nabila Ghali, in Milan and complained that he had been tortured and left deaf in one ear.
Nasr "is not someone who should be in jail. The Egyptian authorities let him out once, so they had nothing on him," Zayat said in an interview. "He is only in jail again because he talks too much."
Two former U.S. intelligence officials have said Nasr was released to house arrest and then taken back to prison because he had violated the terms of the house arrest by calling his wife.
Zayat is Egypt's best-known defender of Islamic radicals and suspected terrorists and has long-standing links with numerous controversial Muslim groups.
He said that after the abduction in Milan, friends of Nasr phoned to ask that he look for the missing cleric. Zayat filed papers with state security officials to launch a search, government officials confirmed. Eventually, the government formally acknowledged holding Nasr.
Human rights groups here say Nasr has fallen into the black hole of Egypt's system of arbitrary arrest. By their count, they say, thousands of prisoners are in Egyptian jails without charges, and sometimes their whereabouts and fate remain unknown.
In June, Nasr's case became a major source of friction between the United States and its ally Italy over the Bush administration practice of "extraordinary rendition," the forcible and secret transfer of terrorism suspects without court proceedings. Italian prosecutors issued warrants for 13 Americans they said were involved in kidnapping Nasr.
On Wednesday, an Italian prosecutor asked a court to issue arrest warrants for six more people said to be CIA operatives who helped in the abduction.
The Egyptian government declined to comment on the case. Telephone inquiries to the Interior Ministry, which Italian officials say took charge of Nasr when he arrived in Egypt, went unanswered.
Zayat said his most recent information is that Nasr is being held in Wadi Natrun prison, a detention facility north of Cairo used for security prisoners. He said the "torture period" for Nasr ended during his first detention.
During a visit to the United States in May, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said the United States has dispatched 60 to 70 Egyptian detainees to their home country since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
During a June 20 visit to Cairo, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern about the fairness of Egyptian justice. "We are all concerned for the future of Egypt's reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy -- men and women -- are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees, and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice," she said.
Zayat said Nasr was being held under the emergency laws to which Rice referred but that he had not been charged with specific offenses.
He denied news reports that Nasr belonged to Gamaa Islamiya, an Egyptian group that carried out assassinations and bombings in Egypt during the 1990s. He acknowledged that Nasr fled Egypt during the decade, a time when the Egyptian government was rounding up thousands of the group's members and sympathizers.
Nasr took refuge in Albania but moved from there to Germany and then to Italy in 1997. That period coincided with a U.S. operation, in cooperation with Albanian secret police, to watch and eventually round up a cell of suspected Egyptian radicals.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that four Egyptians netted by a joint U.S.-Albanian raid and returned to Egypt were all tortured.