Abducted imam seeks return to Italy

From ANSA.it

Lawyer confirms Abu Omar is in Egyptian jail

(ANSA) – Cairo, April 7 – A Muslim cleric allegedly kidnapped by the CIA in Milan in 2003 has asked authorities in Egypt, where he is incarcerated, to be allowed to return to Italy .

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who is usually known as Abu Omar, claims he has Italian citizenship and has requested legal assistance from Italy, his Egyptian lawyer Montasser el Zayat told ANSA .

Abu Omar, the former imam of Milan’s main mosque, lived in the northern city with his Albanian wife and their two children until disappearing mysteriously on February 17, 2003. At the time he was being probed by Milan prosecutors for suspected links to international terrorism .

Prosecutors say he was abducted by the CIA as part of its covert program – called ‘extraordinary rendition’ – in which suspected terrorists are transferred without court approval to third countries for interrogation .

Although Abu Omar has long been assumed to be in Egypt, this was only confirmed in recent days, when Cairo daily El Masri el Yom cited Egyptian security sources as saying that he was currently being interrogated.

“In the last three months he has been kept in isolation without ever going out into the open air,” said Zayat, who this week saw his client for the first time since 2004 .

According to Italian investigators, Abu Omar was forced into a van in broad daylight as he walked to the Milan mosque. They believe he was then taken to the US air base at Aviano and from there, via Germany, to Cairo .

Abu Omar was apparently released in April 2004 and placed under house arrest, at which point he phoned his wife in Italy and said he had been tortured. Some time later it appears he was put back in prison .

He is now being held in the Tora prison, some 20 km south of Cairo .

“He’s OK, despite insufficient food, and there are no signs of torture,” Zayat said, adding that he receives phone calls from his wife in Italy and from relatives in Alexandria, the Egyptian city where he was born .

El Masri el Yom reported that Abu Omar had “considered and even attempted suicide”, but the lawyer could not confirm this .

The case of Abu Omar is sensitive because of its implication that the CIA ignored Italy’s national sovereignty .

The Italian government has repeatedly said it knew nothing of the abduction. Members of the opposition have voiced “perplexity” that such an operation could have been carried out without authorities knowing .

The Abu Omar case fits into what human rights campaigners say is an established practice by the CIA. They say the agency routinely transports terrorism suspects outside normal legal channels to countries where they could be tortured under interrogation .

Washington says it does sometimes transfer suspects but not to places where they could be tortured .

Human rights group Amnesty International accused the United States on Wednesday of using front companies to carry out ‘extraodinary rendition’ operations .

It said this week it has records of nearly 1,000 flights, mostly using European airspace, by planes that were apparently operated by the CIA through front companies .

Milan prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents they believe were involved with the kidnapping of Abu Omar in Milan. They have also requested their extradition from the United States .

But their request, which must go through the central government in Rome, has so far not been passed on to American authorities by the justice ministry .