ROME: A top Italian intelligence officer under investigation over the 2003 alleged CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric has died, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Gen. Gustavo Pignero died of cancer in a Rome hospital on Monday, lawyer Giulia Buongiorno said. She declined to say what kind of cancer the 58-year-old Pignero had suffered from.
Pignero, a former head of counterespionage at the SISMI military intelligence agency, and fellow SISMI officer Marco Mancini had been arrested and charged with kidnapping in the disappearance in Milan of Egyptian cleric and terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr. Prosecutors in the northern city are also seeking the arrest of 26 Americans, all but one believed to be CIA agents.
The prosecutors say that top officials at SISMI, including the agency s director, Nicolo Pollar, collaborated with the Americans to snatch Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street, then fly him via the Aviano joint Italian-U.S. air base and Germany to Egypt, where the cleric says he was tortured.
The operation is believed to be part of an alleged CIA program in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries.
Pollari and the Italian government have repeatedly denied knowledge of and participation in the kidnapping. But a conversation between Mancini and Pignero, recorded by Mancini before their arrest, gives proof that Pollari knew and approved of the CIA operation, according to Mancini s lawyers.
Buongiorno, Pignero s lawyer, refused to comment on how her client s death would affect the investigation and prosecutors in Milan were not immediately available.