Italy denies helping US abduct cleric

One week ago a judge in Milan signed warrants for the arrest of 13 of the agents, which has thrown covert CIA activities outside the US under the spotlight and drawn attention to the increasingly common practice of so-called "extraordinary rendition", by which the US seizes terror suspects and removes them to countries known for their use of torture.

Carlo Giovanardi, the minister for parliamentary relations, told parliament that the abduction of the Milan-based imam, Abu Omar, "was never brought to the attention of the executive or of the national institutions" – a common euphemism in Italy for the secret services. He said that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had summoned the American ambassador Mel Sembler to explain the incident when the latter returns to Rome, probably today.

Abu Omar, whose real name is Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, was grabbed by a group of people while walking towards his mosque in Milan. An Egyptian woman testified that she saw him forced into the back of a van and driven away. Last year, the cleric telephoned his family from Egypt to say he had been tortured with electric shocks. It is believed he is still in prison in Egypt.

Yesterday, The Washington Post claimed that Italian secret services had prior knowledge of the abduction and had approved it.

"Before a CIA paramilitary team was deployed to snatch a radical Islamic cleric off the streets of Milan ... the CIA station chief in Rome briefed and sought approval from his counterpart in Italy, according to three CIA veterans with knowledge of the operation," the paper said. The report went on: "Both the CIA and the Italian service agreed beforehand that if the unusual operation was to become public, as it has, neither side would confirm its involvement." According to the Post, only a tiny number of people had been told about the action, and they did not include magistrates or police in Milan.

In the Italian senate yesterday, a senator with the Green party, Tana de Zulueta, challenged Mr Giovanardi to refute the Washington Post report. He responded: "It's false."

The indictment of the CIA agents is the first time America's right to forcibly remove people from the countries in which they are legally resident and whisk them off to be tortured has been challenged in the courts of an allied country.

Mr Giovanardi's denial of prior knowledge got a contemptuous reaction from Luigi Malabarba, leader of Rifondazione Comunista in the senate and a member of the parliamentary committee on the secret services. "The [Italian] political authorities and the police were informed by the CIA and the US embassy in Rome," he said, "and they agreed to the abduction of Abu Omar because they share the modality of prosecuting the preventive war against terrorism as defined by the Bush administration. They obviously cannot admit that because it violates the constitution, Italian law and international treaties. Giovanardi is a liar."

The Washington Post report said it was unclear how high in the Italian intelligence service the information was shared or whether the office of Mr Berlusconi was aware.

Italian commentators made much of the fact that it was a junior minister, Mr Giovanardi, who was called on to make the statement rather than Mr Berlusconi himself, or one of his senior ministers.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'