July 19, 2006

Italy spy chief denies role in CIA kidnap

By Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - The head of Italy's military intelligence
agency on Wednesday defended himself and colleagues being
investigated for their possible role in the alleged CIA
kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in Milan.

Nicolo Pollari told a closed-door meeting of the Senate
defense committee that the Sismi intelligence agency had
"nothing to do with illegal acts" and would not break the law
to help foreign agents.

The comments, relayed to reporters by the committee's
chairman, were Pollari's first known response since prosecutors
questioned him on Saturday over Sismi's possible role helping
the CIA abduct a Muslim cleric in Milan and fly him to Egypt.

The suspect, an Egyptian named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr,
says he was tortured there under interrogation.

Pollari's No. 2 and another official were arrested this
month and held for more than a week.

"Gen. Pollari said calmly that our secret services did not
violate the law, even in situations that can be defined as
border-line," Sen. Sergio De Gregorio, the defense committee's
chairman, told reporters.

De Gregorio added that although Sismi cooperated with
foreign agents, it would not do so with "projects that were
against the law."

Twenty-six Americans, most believed to be CIA agents, face
arrest warrants over the Nasr case.

Pollari declined to speak with reporters as he left the


Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said that he intended to
free agents from restrictions of state secrecy so that they
could collaborate with magistrates.

But, speaking before the lower house of parliament, he also
said he wanted to avoid damaging the operations of the Sismi
spy agency and avoid leaks to reporters -- something that has
accompanied every step of the Nasr investigation so far.

De Gregorio suggested that Pollari would be better able to
protect himself in the investigation if he were able to present
classified information to magistrates.

"I think that if Gen. Pollari was free from state secrecy,
he would be able to discuss things that relate to secrets that
our heads of state are aware of," he said, answering a question
about Nasr's abduction. He did not elaborate.

Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister at the time of the
abduction, has also denied any role and compared magistrates to
"terrorists" for locking up intelligence agency officials meant
to protect the country.

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, currently held in an 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.

(Additional reporting by Antonella Cinelli and Roberto