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Saturday, June 25, 2005

 

NYTimes: Rogue CIA Italian raid

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MILAN, June 25--The Italian judge, Chiara Nobili of Milan, who signed the arrest warrants on Wednesday for 13 C.I.A. operatives, issued a ruling stating her reasons.  The CIA agents are suspected of seizing an imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, as he walked to his mosque here for noon prayers on Feb. 17, 2003.

It is unclear what prompted the issuance of the warrants, but Judge Guido Salvini said in May that it was "certain" that Mr. Nasr had been seized by "people belonging to foreign intelligence networks interested in interrogating him and neutralizing him, to then hand him over to Egyptian authorities."

Mr. Nasr, who was under investigation before his disappearance for possible links to Al Qaeda, is still missing, and his family and friends say he was tortured repeatedly by Egyptian jailers.

The detailed warrants remained sealed in a Milan courthouse on Friday. But copies obtained by The New York Times show that 13 American citizens, all identified in the documents as either C.I.A. employees or as having links to the agency, are wanted to stand trial on kidnapping charges, which carry a maximum penalty of 10 years and 8 months in prison. The Americans' whereabouts are unknown.

One of those wanted, identified in the court papers as the agency's top officer in Milan, is described as "having coordinated the mission and also guaranteeing connections and assistance to others involved in the crime." He left Milan and flew to Egypt five days after the abduction, the warrant says.

In the papers, Judge Nobili wrote that she was persuaded of the Americans' involvement in part because of evidence that their cellphones were "all interacting with one another" at the time and scene of the abduction.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has been an ally of the Bush administration in the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq, had no comment on the warrants. Such judicial documents are issued independently of the government.

The chief C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Millerwise, declined to comment on the charges, as did the American Embassy in Rome and the Consulate in Milan.

This is the first time a foreign country has tried to prosecute American agents for the process of rendition, in which terrorism suspects captured abroad are sent by the United States to their home countries or to third countries, some of which have records of torturing prisoners.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had been no exchanges between Italy and the United States about the investigation before the judge acted.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, more than 100 terrorism suspects have been transferred by the United States to Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and other countries where, some former captives have said, they were tortured. Agency officials defend the practice, which began a decade ago, as a legal and effective way to thwart terrorists.

The agency usually carries out the transfers with the permission of foreign governments, but Italian investigators said they were unaware of any agreement between Italy and the United States about Mr. Nasr.

It was not known Friday whether the Italian government had approved the rendition here. In interviews in recent months, several former American intelligence officials have said they would be surprised if C.I.A. operations here had not been approved by Italy.

Several senior Italian investigators said they believed the 13 operatives had left Italy. A raid carried out Thursday at a villa owned by one of the operatives in the Piedmont hills produced a computer disk drive and documents, investigators said.

Italian investigators had assumed the operation was conducted jointly by Italian and American officials because witnesses said the kidnappers spoke fluent Italian. But on Friday, they said they had found evidence only of American involvement.

"There is no shadow of proof of any Italian involvement," one senior investigator said. "If someone came to tell us that the Italians were involved, we'd open up the investigation again."

At the time that he disappeared, Italian authorities were investigating reports that Mr. Nasr had tried to recruit jihadists through his mosque in Milan.

Full NY Times story.


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