An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 people linked to the CIA for “kidnapping” an Egyptian terrorism suspect in Milan and flying him to Egypt where he said he was tortured, judicial sources said on Friday.
“In the judge’s order, it (the abduction) is clearly attributed to the CIA,” a source said.
Confirming the arrest warrant without mentioning the U.S. intelligence agency, the prosecutors office said the 13 suspects were believed to be behind the abduction of imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was grabbed off a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003 and stuffed into a white van.
Nasr was then taken to a U.S. air base in Aviano, Italy and flown to Egypt, stopping over on the way in Ramstein, Germany, to change planes, the prosecutors’ statement said.
The judicial source cited the warrant, which has still not been made public, as saying a CIA agent known to Italian authorities coordinated the operation.
The source added there was no indication Italy had authorized the “illegal kidnapping.”
A CIA spokesperson in Washington said: “We’re not even not commenting. We’re saying: if we have anything to say, we’ll get back to you.” The U.S. embassy in Rome declined comment.
The prosecutors office said it would request “judicial assistance” from U.S. and Egyptian authorities.
Another judicial source said: “We know some of the identities of these (suspects) with certainty, but with others we are not sure of their true identity.”
Foreign intelligence officials believe Nasr had fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia before arriving in Italy in 1997 and obtaining political refugee status. When he disappeared, he was under investigation in Italy for suspected ties to terrorism, including recruiting militants for Iraq.
Italy laid charges against Nasr on Friday, formally ordering his arrest for terrorism, which paves the way for his possible extradition to Milan. But his current whereabouts are unknown.
Secret transfers of suspects to foreign states for interrogation are an acknowledged tool of the United States in its war on terrorism, but it denies charges that the practice — known as rendition — amounts to outsourcing torture.
President Bush said in March that the United States only delivers terrorism suspects to nations once it has obtained assurances they will not be tortured.
The Italian prosecutors office said Nasr appeared to have been subjected to abuse in Egyptian custody.
He was temporarily released in 2004 for medical reasons after apparently enduring “physical violence to get him to respond to questions by interrogators,” it said in the statement.
Before he was arrested again in Egypt in May 2004, Nasr made two phone calls — one to his wife and another to a religious leader in Milan named Mohamed Reda, in which he spoke of abuse.
“I still can’t walk more than 200 meters (660 ft). I’m always seated. I have problems of incontinence, kidneys, high blood pressure,” he said, according to a wire tap transcript in court documents obtained by Reuters on Friday.
Corriere della Sera said Italian investigators had identified the alleged kidnappers by tracing cell phone calls after the abduction, many of them to the Aviano base.
It was not immediately clear whether Nasr was still in Egyptian custody and Corriere said he has not been heard from since the telephone calls last year.
Last month another judge, Guido Salvini, said in a court document that “people belonging to foreign intelligence networks” had kidnapped Nasr and flown him out of Italy.
He added that the alleged kidnapping “undoubtedly constitutes a grave violation of Italian national sovereignty.”