Portugal Probes Alleged CIA Flights

The Associated Press
Monday, February 5, 2007; 10:58 PM

LISBON, Portugal -- Portugal's attorney general is opening a criminal investigation into claims that CIA flights, some of them allegedly carrying terror suspects, made stopovers in the country, the state-owned news agency reported on Monday.

The agency Lusa quoted Deputy Attorney General Candida Almeida as saying the investigation had "many leads" to pursue after a Portuguese deputy at the European Parliament presented a dossier of allegations.

"Before, we had no indications (of a crime), but the complaints we have received show areas we might explore," Almeida was quoted as saying.

Officials at the attorney general's office were not immediately available for comment. But authorities often use Lusa to make official announcements.

The attorney general's decision to launch a formal investigation is embarrassing for the government. Last week, Foreign Minister Luis Amado said authorities had not unearthed any evidence of CIA flights and would not investigate the matter further.

A report published by a European Parliament committee last month said Britain, Poland, Germany, Italy and other EU nations were aware of CIA flights over Europe and of "extraordinary rendition," a practice whereby the U.S. government allegedly sends foreign terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.

It said information from Eurocontrol, the EU's air safety agency, showed that more than 1,200 undeclared CIA flights had entered European airspace since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.

Though there was no direct evidence that CIA flights had used Portugal as a stopover, the report urged the government to continue investigating whether they had.

Ana Gomes, a European Parliament deputy, met with the attorney general last week and said she gave him evidence that dozens of CIA planes had landed in Portugal, some of them flying to or from the U.S. military prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gomes said she collected statements from witnesses who claimed to have seen handcuffed prisoners at an airport in Portugal's mid-Atlantic Azores Islands.

She also alleged that local authorities knew Portugal was being used for CIA flights.

A CIA spokesman declined to comment Monday on the allegations.

© 2007 The Associated Press