Italians arrested over CIA kidnapping

By Ann Cahill in the Irish Examiner

TWO Italian intelligence officials have been arrested for allegedly helping the CIA to kidnap a terror suspect

Prosecutors also said they were seeking the arrest of four more Americans as part of an investigation into the alleged CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003.

A statement released in Milan said three were CIA agents, while the fourth American worked at the joint US-Italian air base of Aviano, where the Egyptian was allegedly taken after his abduction. The statement also said that two Italian officials with the SISMI intelligence agency were placed under arrest. They were the first Italians to be involved in the probe.

Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian cleric and terrorist suspect also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly kidnapped from a Milan street on February 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the alleged operation represented a severe breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised their anti-terrorism efforts, and have already incriminated 22 purported CIA agents.

Former premier Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly maintained his government and Italian secret services had not been informed about the operation or taken part in it.

Prosecutors say Nasr was taken by the CIA to a joint US-Italian air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. MEPS said yesterday the arrests would increase the pressure on EU states to investigate allegations that they colluded with or at least were passive in the CIA kidnappings and 1,000 flights through the union.

An interim report into the matter split the Parliament yesterday, with some, especially from the conservative European People’s Party and the new member states, saying it contained no evidence against the US, ignored any pro-US evidence and was basically anti-American.

Some threatened to vote against the report today when it comes before the Parliament meeting in Strasbourg.

Dublin Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa said the plane used to transfer Abu Omar illegally from Italy to Egypt afterwards landed at Shannon airport on its return journey to the US.

“We have reason to think that Abu Omar was tortured in Egypt,” he said and called on the Irish government to adopt the recommendations of the Irish human rights body to inspect flights and made diplomatic assurances challengeable in law.

But Fianna Fáil MEP S?an Ó Neachtain said the allegations about Shannon were unfounded and were not substantiated by the report. But as a result of the claims Shannon had lost the US military contract worth ?10m.

Simon Coveney, human rights spokesperson for the parliament’s largest group, the EPP, said it would be hypocritical not to speak out against illegal rendition even if it involves the EU’s allies and he appealed to the parliament not to become polarised on the issue.