July 6, 2006

Italy likely knew about CIA kidnap: minister

By Roberto Landucci

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's former government probably knew
about the alleged CIA abduction of a terrorism suspect in 2003,
new Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said on Thursday,
following the arrest of two Italian intelligence officials.

"It seems difficult to me that an operation of this sort,
which would involve top-level intelligence agents, happened
without the political authorities knowing absolutely anything
about it," D'Alema told members of his centre-left coalition.

The comments were the strongest yet by a senior government
official to suggest that the previous centre-right
administration of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi might
have known about the abduction.

Berlusconi's government, ousted in April elections, has
fiercely denied any knowledge or connection to the matter.

Police arrested Italy's second-highest ranking military
intelligence official, Marco Mancini, on Wednesday and placed
another spy chief under house arrest for their possible role in
the alleged kidnapping of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama
Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

Prosecutors say a CIA-led team grabbed Nasr off a Milan
street, bundled him into a van and later flew him to Egypt,
where he is now being held without charges. Nasr says he was
tortured under questioning there.

Beyond linking Italians to the kidnapping for the first
time, a judge on Wednesday also raised to 26 the number of
Americans -- most believed to be CIA agents -- who face arrest
warrants over the Nasr case.

Prosecutors are expected to question Mancini on Friday. He
denies any wrongdoing.

"We must get to the bottom of this to ascertain the truth
given that it seems like there were secret agents that
collaborated in carrying out a crime," D'Alema said in remarks
carried by Italian media.

Any proof of Italian involvement would confirm charges by
Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty made last month that
European governments had colluded with Washington in secret
prisoner transfers.

Nasr's lawyer told Reuters on Thursday that the cleric
plans to sue Italy for 10 million euros ($12.7 million) for
allegedly helping the CIA kidnap him in Milan.

Nasr had political refugee status in Italy at the time of
the alleged abduction but faces arrest in Italy on suspicion of
terrorist activity including recruiting militants for Iraq.