Sunday Times; February 06, 2005
ITALIAN police are investigating allegations that American intelligence agents kidnapped an Islamic militant in Milan and transported him to Egypt, where he was tortured.
Osama Moustafa Nasr, an Egyptian dissident with alleged links to Al-Qaeda, disappeared in Milan on February 16, 2003, after eyewitnesses saw him being approached by three men as he walked to a mosque.
A kidnap inquiry was opened in Italy after Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was temporarily released from custody in Egypt last year and telephoned his wife and friends to tell them what had happened.
He claimed he had been tortured so badly by secret police in Cairo that he had lost hearing in one ear. Italian officers who intercepted the call believe he has since been rearrested.
Although details of the inquiry remain confidential, the Italians are thought to be investigating claims that Nasr was taken by US intelligence agents to Aviano airbase and flown to Egypt in an American plane.
If confirmed, the case would be one of the most controversial instances of the American policy of “rendition” — sending prisoners for imprisonment and questioning in other countries. Since September 11, 2001, dozens of prisoners have been transferred by America to countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia where interrogation techniques may be harsh.
As The Sunday Times disclosed last November, US agents have repeatedly used civilian executive jets to transport prisoners to the Middle East, including a Gulfstream that was a frequent visitor to British airports. The plane was sold two days after the Sunday Times article appeared.
Imam Imad, the head of Viale Jenner mosque in Milan, an alleged centre of Islamic militancy, said Nasr had described how he tried to resist as he was stopped in the street and forced into a car before being taken to a military base.
“He can’t be sure if it was the Italians or Americans who took him,” Imad said. “He was blindfolded. But they were western people. It was certainly not the Egyptians who captured him and took him to Cairo.”
Armando Spataro, the deputy chief prosecutor of Milan, would not confirm whether there was any evidence of US involvement but said he was conducting a far-reaching inquiry. If Americans had played a part, “it would be a serious breach of Italian law”.
Spataro and other Italian prosecutors are particularly angry about Nasr’s disappearance because they were preparing to prosecute him in Milan. They had bugged a conversation that appeared to suggest he was colluding in the establishment of a new terrorist network in Europe.
The CIA and other US government departments refuse to discuss rendition publicly, except to insist that all transfers are conducted legally. Privately officials say they have guarantees that prisoners sent to other countries are well treated.
Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA official who once played a leading role in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, has confirmed that the agency has been involved in the rendition of close to 100 terror suspects.
The policy of “capturing people and taking them to second or third countries” was developed after the CIA was told to dismantle terrorist cells across the world, said Scheuer, who resigned last November.
Barbara Olshansky, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, said the rendition policy was a clear violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which is incorporated into American law and bans the transfer of prisoners to countries where torture is likely.
Official documents released recently in Sweden revealed that the CIA provided a Gulfstream jet that took two Egyptian terrorist suspects from Sweden to Cairo in December 2001. Both claimed they were brutally tortured.
Stephen Grey presents a report on rendition on Radio 4’s File on 4 on Tuesday.