Operation for Egyptian cleric believed to be part of CIA program
ROME: Italian prosecutors said Wednesday 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.
In a statement released in Milan, prosecutors said three were CIA agents, while the fourth American worked at the joint U.S.-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; the first Italians involved in the probe.
The statement did not provide names, but said the two, at the time of the kidnapping, were the director of SISMI s first division, dealing with international terrorism, and the head of the agency s operations in northern Italy.
Italian reports identified the two as Marco Mancini, currently the head of military counterespionage, and Gustavo Pignero, and said they were charged with kidnapping.
Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian cleric and terrorist suspect also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly kidnapped from a Milan street on Feb. 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.
Prosecutors say Nasr was taken by the CIA to the Aviano air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
The operation is believed part of an alleged CIA program in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries where some allegedly are subjected to torture. The CIA uses the euphemism extraordinary rendition to describe such operations.
Over the past months, reports in the Italian media have said that Italian intelligence officers had also been involved. A report published in La Repubblica in May claimed that the SISMI s operations unit had cooperated with the Americans.
Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly maintained his government and Italian secret services were not informed about the operation and had not taken part in it. In March SISMI director Nicolo Pollari told EU lawmakers that Italian agents played no part and had no knowledge of the operation.
Also as part of the investigation, the Milan offices of an Italian daily, Libero, were searched Wednesday by about a dozen policemen, who seized the computer of the newspaper s deputy editor, Renato Farina.
Farina has covered the kidnapping case, and the newspaper said police were looking for information they thought had been leaked by the SISMI to the journalist. No further details were given.
Milan Prosecutor Armando Spataro, who is leading the investigation, is seeking the extradition of the 22 purported CIA agents accused in the abduction. The previous government led by Berlusconi decided against forwarding Spataro s extradition request to Washington, but Spataro has said he would ask the new center-left government led by Romano Prodi to make the request.
Spataro said the investigation might be wrapped this month and then he would seek indictments against the 22. A judge must then rule on the whether they would stand trial.