Cleric abducted in Italy by CIA was 'tortured from moment of seizure'

Peter Popham
Thursday 08 June 2006 00:00

An Egyptian cleric grabbed from a street in Milan by CIA agents and flown out of the country was "tortured from the moment he was seized" according to a lawyer who spoke to him in the prison in Egypt where he is still detained.

Montasser Zayat said that he had met the cleric in the Cairo prison three times in March and April.

The case of Abu Omar, also known as Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, has become celebrated in Italy since a judge in Milan issued arrest warrants for the 22 American agents said to have been involved in his disappearance.

Abu Omar had been granted asylum in Italy but was under investigation by the Italian authorities for terrorist links. He was seized on 17 February 2003 and driven to the US-Italian air base at Aviano, north of Venice, then flown to Cairo via Germany. In 2004 he telephoned his wife and friends in Milan and told them that he had been taken to a secret prison in Egypt and tortured with electric shocks.

Last year The Washington Post, citing three CIA veterans, claimed the Italian authorities had prior knowledge of the CIA's plan to grab Abu Omar and had approved it. "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," the paper reported. The report was denied by the Italian government.

A public prosecutor in Milan, Armando Spataro, celebrated for his prosecution of Mafia gangsters, has asked for the extradition of 22 CIA agents from the US to stand trial for kidnapping. The Justice Minister has yet to respond.

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