July 12, 2006

Berlusconi slams Italy arrests over CIA case

By Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - Ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who
lost power in April elections, attacked Italian magistrates on
Wednesday for chasing after CIA agents and Italian spies over
the alleged kidnap of a terrorism suspect.

Berlusconi also said that Rome risked increasing the
chances of a terrorist attack on Italian soil if the government
loses its close ties with the CIA over the case.

"The world is upside-down: Those who defend the security of
the country go to jail," said Berlusconi, leader of the
centre-right opposition and Italy's richest man.

"But whoever attacks the secret services who have this
mission (to protect us) is the real terrorist," he was quoted
as saying by Italian media.

Italian prosecutors say a CIA-led team abducted radical
Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr off a Milan street in
2003, bundled him into a van and flew him to Egypt. There, Nasr
says he was tortured.

Twenty-six Americans, most believed to be CIA agents, face
arrest warrants in Italy over the abduction.


Two officials with Italy's military intelligence agency
Sismi, including its second-highest ranking member, were
arrested last week and are under house arrest over their
suspected roles.

"If they (leaders of the centre-left government) break it
off with the CIA we are vulnerable to attacks -- we are facing
an incredible lack of responsibility," Berlusconi said,
according to Italy's ANSA news agency.

The centre-left government has defended Sismi and Defense
Minister Arturo Parisi said on Wednesday that Italians should
distinguish between the agency and possible wrongdoing by some
of its spies.

Berlusconi reiterated his long-standing position that he
did not know about a plot to abduct Nasr.

Any proof of Italian involvement would confirm one of the
chief accusations made by Council of Europe investigator Dick
Marty in a report last month -- that European governments
colluded with the United States in secret prisoner transfers.

Nasr, being held in Egyptian prison, had political refugee
status in Italy at the time of the alleged kidnap. But he faces
an arrest warrant in Italy over suspicion of terrorist activity
including recruiting militants for Iraq.