April 12, 2006

Italy won’t seek extradition over CIA “kidnap”

By Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - The Italian government, a close U.S. ally,
said on Wednesday it would not seek the extradition of 22 CIA
agents accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in Milan and
flying him to Egypt for interrogation.

Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, after months of
deliberation, said he would not forward to the United States
the extradition request written by Milan prosecutors, who want
to eventually put the agents on trial.

Castelli did not explain how he had reached his decision,
announced two days after the conservative government lost its
reelection bid to the center-left opposition.

The minister has suggested in the past that the case was
politically motivated.

Milan Prosecutor Armando Spataro has said a CIA team seized
terrorism suspect Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu
Omar, off a Milan street in broad daylight in 2003. Nasr was
then driven to military base north of Venice and flown to Egypt
for questioning, according to prosecutors and court documents.

Spataro says evidence shows Nasr was tortured there and he
intends to soon try the agents in absentia, if possible.

He had asked Castelli to request the extradition of the
suspects, but expressed skepticism that -- even if Rome had
cooperated -- Washington would ever surrender its agents to
Italian courts.


Italian investigators had been wiretapping Nasr before his
abduction and accuse him of ties to al Qaeda and recruiting
combatants for Iraq, according to court documents and Milan
prosecutors. The investigators say the CIA pulled the plug on a
promising probe when they abducted him from the country.

An Italian judge has called the kidnap a breach of Italian
sovereignty. Nasr was briefly released from Egyptian custody in
2004 and recounted his ordeal in phone calls to Italy, before
being re-arrested.

Human rights group Amnesty International cited the Nasr
case last week while accusing the United States of using front
companies to transfer individuals to countries to suffer
torture or ill-treatment.

It cited records of nearly hundreds of flights, mostly
across European airspace, made by planes that appear to have
been operated by the CIA through front companies.

Milan prosecutors say Nasr was flown from Italy's Aviano
military base on a private jet to another base in Ramstein,
Germany, before changing planes and continuing to Egypt.

The European Parliament and the Council of Europe are
watching the Italian case carefully as they move ahead with
their own investigations into suspected U.S. anti-terrorism
activity, including running secret prisons in eastern Europe.

Several European countries have sought explanations from
the United States over the suspected use of military bases on
the continent for "rendition," a process whereby terrorism
suspects are secretly transferred to third countries, including
states known to practice torture.