things getting a tad tense??? (or just more so??)
Italy judge seeks arrest of alleged CIA agents
13 charged with kidnap of cleric
By Farah Stockman and Sofia Celeste, Globe Staff and Globe Correspondent | June 25, 2005
ROME -- An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 alleged American CIA operatives on charges of kidnapping a terrorism suspect in Milan and secretly flying him to Egypt without permission from Italian authorities, prosecutors in Milan said yesterday.
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Sign up for: Globe Headlines e-mail | Breaking News Alerts The arrest warrants, issued by Judge Chiara Nobile, came nearly 2 1/2 years after the disappearance of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, who was forced into a white van on Feb. 17, 2003, while walking down a Milan street near the Islamic center where he preached, according to a statement released by prosecutors.
Italian investigators tracked down the identities of the US operatives who seized Nasr by analyzing the signals of 17 cellphones operating in the area at the time of Nasr's disappearance, according to the statement. They later traced the movements of the plane that carried him from the shared US-Italian Aviano Air Base in Italy, to the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and then on to Cairo.
The case reveals a stunning rift between two close allies on a counterterrorism operation, and shines a spotlight on the controversial American practice of ''extraordinary rendition," in which terrorism suspects are snatched by US officials and taken to third countries for interrogation or detention in countries where torture is routine, beyond the reach of Western legal protection.
The Italian newspaper, Corriere Della Sera, published last night on its website the name of a man it said was the CIA station chief in Milan, who the newspaper said had traveled to Cairo around the same time as Nasr's interrogation. The newspaper said the man was at the center of the probe.
The newspaper also reported that Italian investigators had credit card information and American addresses for the operatives, who reportedly incurred $144,984 in bills at various five-star hotels in Milan during the 2003 rendition operation. According to the report, two pairs of operatives took holidays in Venice ''to celebrate" the completion of the mission.
One Italian law enforcement official in Milan involved in the case told the Globe in a telephone interview that he was especially angry about the US seizure of Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, because Nasr had been under surveillance for years by his office for suspected terrorist activities.
''By kidnapping him [the Americans] interrupted an investigation already taking place by the Italian police," said the official, who asked not to be identified. ''We had already been tapping his conversations. We had information on his friends and his links."
Italy's antiterrorist squad, DIGOS, had been monitoring Nasr, an Egyptian-born preacher of fiery ideology, since he had been granted political asylum in Italy in 2001, the official said.
He said all 13 suspects alleged to be involved in his disappearance are American, and that he knows of no Italian government official or agency that was informed of the operation.Continued...
Nasr is alleged to be an Al Qaeda supporter who fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia. The investigations into his disappearance have been reported by both the American and Italian press since February, when prosecutor Armando Spataro began demanding information about it from Aviano Air Base.
Shortly after Nasr's disappearance, US authorities told Italian police in Rome that he had been taken to a remote location in the Balkans, according to the statement, which was released by Milan's chief prosecutor, Manlio Claudio Minale.
It was only a year later, in April 2004, that Italian police in Milan learned what had really happened to Nasr when they intercepted phone calls he made from Cairo to his wife and two other individuals, according to the official.
During those conversations, Nasr said that he had been abducted and taken to Egypt, where he said he was tortured and injured so badly that he lost his hearing in one ear. He made the phone call after being released because of what the prosecutors' statement termed a ''deteriorating physical condition," but was soon rearrested by Egyptian authorities.
The whereabouts of Nasr are not known, nor are the whereabouts of the 13 Americans.
The United States has acknowledged that renditions have taken place, but has declined to discuss specific individual cases or reveal how many transfers have occurred.
The practice of rendition has been under fire in Canada, Sweden, and Germany, where officials have begun investigations into the US capture and secret transfer of citizens or residents.
In the case of Canada and Sweden, US officials coordinated to some extent with local authorities before the transfers.
In Italy, however, it is unclear how much the Italian government knew about the operation, if anything.
Members of Parliament have been requesting information from Italy's foreign and interior ministers since late 2004, when news of the Milan investigation began to leak out in the Italian press.
''I find the Italian government's ongoing silence extraordinary," said Tana De Zulueta, an Italian senator who has served on the parliament's human rights commission. ''These [agents] violated our laws in broad daylight. I want to find out about Abu Omar and if he is still alive."
The CIA declined to comment yesterday. Adam Ereli, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said yesterday that he had no information about the allegations, and called the issue ''a matter with the Italian judiciary."
Italian prosecutors are investigating six additional Americans suspected of involvement, according to the official.
Prosecutors did not release the names of the suspects yesterday, and detailed court documents that contain their identities and lengthy allegations are being withheld from the public.
Separately, another Milan judge issued an arrest warrant for Nasr that sharply criticized the US rendition, according to Corriere Della Sera.
''The sequestering of Abu Omar is not just illegal, having violated Italian sovereignty, but it was also an ominous act against the effectiveness of the fight against terrorism," wrote Judge Guido Salvini in the warrant, as quoted in the newspaper.
The Chicago Tribune reported in March that Nasr might have been transported to Cairo by a private jet owned by a Red Sox partner, Phillip H. Morse, who charters out the jet to the CIA when he is not using it for the baseball team.
Morse's Gulfstream jet, with registration number N85VM, was on a Cairo airstrip on Feb. 17, 2003, the day Nasr arrived, the paper reported, and Morse confirmed to The Boston Globe that he leases the plane for secret government missions.
The statement by the prosecutor yesterday said that Nasr was flown on a Gulfstream jet from Germany to Cairo, but did not further identify the plane.
Following news of the arrest warrant, Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has tried to make rendition illegal, said, ''This administration's rogue kidnapping efforts are now being questioned by some of our closest allies in the war on terror. . . . [President Bush's] defense of this illegal practice jeopardizes US officials who are now caught in the middle of an international kidnapping."
Farah Stockman reported from Washington and Sofia Celeste reported from Rome.