Italy may seek return of CIA “operatives”


ROME ‘ Italian prosecutors have requested the extradition of 22 purported CIA operatives in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003, prosecutors said Friday. The request was sent to Italy’s Justice Ministry in Rome, which will decide whether to pass it on to the United States.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli returned Friday from Washington, where he held talks with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on “cross-border investigations and extradition cases of mutual interest for the two countries,” a ministry statement said. It did not specify whether they took up the CIA case, which has strained relations between the two allies.

A U.S. Justice Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the United States had not received a formal extradition request but that the subject had come up during the meeting between Castelli and Gonzales.

The purported CIA operatives were allegedly involved in the kidnapping of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, a cleric who was thought to belong to an Islamic terror group. He was allegedly abducted on a Milan street Feb. 17, 2003, before being flown to Egypt, where he was reportedly tortured.

Prosecutors claimed Nasr’s abduction violated Italian sovereignty and hindered Italian terrorism investigations. The Justice Ministry is not obligated to pursue a prosecutor’s extradition request. A judge in Milan has issued an arrest warrant for Nasr ‘ a step that could lead to Italy’s requesting his extradition from authorities in Egypt, Italian news agencies reported.

The extradition request threatens a new jolt to relations between Italy and the United States, which also were strained by the March killing of an Italian intelligence agent by U.S. troops in Baghdad. Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government denied months ago it had prior knowledge of the alleged kidnapping.

It summoned the U.S. ambassador to explain the operation, which was purportedly part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries, subjecting them to possible ill-treatment.