July 1, 2005

Italy tells U.S to respect sovereignty after kidnap

By Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - Italy told the United States on Friday torespect Italian sovereignty after an alleged CIA kidnapping ofa Muslim terrorist suspect in Milan in 2003.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi summoned U.S. ambassadorMel Sembler for a nearly hour-long meeting after accusationsthe United States broke Italian law by seizing the cleric andtaking him to Egypt, where prosecutors believe he was tortured.

Italy, a U.S. ally over the war on terrorism and Iraq, hasdenied prior knowledge of any kidnapping.

"Berlusconi received ... the United States ambassador, MelSembler, to whom he explained the indispensable demand that theUnited States fully respect Italian sovereignty," the primeminister's office said in a statement.

The U.S. embassy, which has declined to comment on thekidnapping allegations, said Sembler told Berlusconi it wasU.S. policy to always respect Italy's sovereignty.

"Both the prime minister and ambassador underscored thatthe broad, deep and lasting ties between the United States andItaly will continue on the basis of mutual respect," theembassy said.


Prosecutors believe Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also knownas Abu Omar, was seized in a street in Milan on Feb. 17, 2003and secretly flown to Egypt. They said evidence showed he wastortured by Egyptian authorities during questioning.

A Milan judge last week issued arrest warrants for 13people in connection with the kidnapping of Nasr. Judicialsources say all 13 are linked to the U.S. Central IntelligenceAgency.

Italian media reported on Friday prosecutors were seekingarrest orders for an additional "six CIA agents."

It was the second time this year that Italy has publiclysummoned Sembler.

In March, the U.S. ambassador was called in after U.S.troops killed Italian intelligence agent Nicola Calipari inIraq, provoking a national outcry. No disciplinary action wastaken against the U.S. soldiers.

"They hide the truth about Calipari, they kidnap terroristsor terrorist suspects and then don't even bother to give anexplanation," opposition lawmaker Pietro Folena told reporters.

Opposition politicians asked Berlusconi to addressparliament on the kidnapping allegations.

The government appeared slow in responding publicly to newsof the arrest orders in the Nasr case, only breaking itssilence on Thursday but failing to convince critics.

"Exactly because nobody knew, why then wasn't theambassador summoned last week, when the judge issued the arrestwarrants?" leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera saidin a front-page editorial column.

A political cartoon on Friday showed a picture ofBerlusconi covering his eyes so as not to see a CIA officernext to him, wearing a spy's trademark trench coat and darkglasses.

It was a sign of how much the agents appeared to havebungled the operation, according to Italian reports, leaving avast trail of hotel receipts and phone records.

One U.S. intelligence officer, declining to be identified,told Reuters it was "beyond appalling."