Italy Probes Agency's Link to CIA in Cleric's Abduction

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 12, 2006

ROME, May 11 -- Italian prosecutors are investigating whether Italy's military intelligence agency had a role in the kidnapping by CIA agents of an Egyptian Muslim cleric in Milan and his dispatch to prison in Egypt, government officials said Thursday.

The February 2003 seizure of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on a street in Milan was part of an American-orchestrated practice known as "extraordinary rendition," in which terrorist suspects are rounded up without judicial recourse and sent on clandestine flights to their home countries for imprisonment and questioning.

Human rights groups say the transfers are illegal and subject the prisoners to possible torture once they reach their destinations.

The Italian government repeated past denials of a role. "The prime minister's office has nothing to add about the complete lack of involvement in the kidnapping by both the government and the information and security services," a government statement said Thursday. U.S. officials have said that the Italians were informed of the abduction in advance.

Documents from the office of the Milan prosecutor, Armando Spataro, indicate that a member of the country's paramilitary carabinieri police force took part in Abu Omar's abduction. Spataro's office also is investigating at least one officer of Sismi, the Italian intelligence service, for allegedly coordinating with the Americans.

Last year, Spataro asked for the extradition for trial of 22 CIA agents, all of whom have left Italy. The government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a staunch ally of the Bush administration, rejected the request.

The policeman, code-named Ludwig, worked for a carabinieri section known as the Special Operations Department. A CIA operative employed Ludwig to approach Abu Omar on the street and conduct a routine documents check, according to government officials who asked that their names not be published.

When Abu Omar handed Ludwig his papers, two men leapt from a van and hustled the Egyptian away. Abu Omar was eventually taken to the U.S. air base at Aviano, flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany and from there to Egypt, Italian investigators have concluded. Ludwig has acknowledged his participation.

Carabinieri officials said Thursday that Ludwig acted alone and without authorization.

His activities were discovered during a review of the many wiretaps of cellphones used by the U.S. operatives during the rendition operation.

Abu Omar was released from an Egyptian jail in April 2004 but was rearrested after he called his wife in Milan and told her he had been tortured. His phone call, which was also tapped by Italian officials, triggered the probe of the kidnapping. Abu Omar remains in jail, according to his lawyer in Cairo, Montasser Zayat.

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