AN EGYPTIAN preacher who was seized by the CIA in daylight on a Milan street has revealed the details of 14 months of torture to which he says he was subjected after his “extraordinary rendition” to Egypt.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, described how Egyptian interrogators stripped him, shackled his arms and legs in a crucifixion position and then beat him and gave him electric shocks. He claimed they had twice attempted to rape him.
Now living in Alexandria, Nasr, 44, walks with a limp, is deaf in one ear and bears scars.
Last Friday the trial opened of 26 American defendants accused of kidnapping him on February 17, 2003, in an operation prosecutors say was coordinated by the CIA and Italian intelligence. None of the US defendants, a number of whom were identified by aliases, attended.
Nasr fled Egypt in 1988 after he was accused of being a member of Gama’a Islamiya, an Egyptian militant group that later carried out terrorist attacks. He denied the allegation and was granted political asylum in Italy. When he disappeared he was walking to midday prayers at a radical mosque where he was a part-time preacher.
He became a “ghost prisoner”, his arrest and detention confirmed to nobody. “I was out of history. My lawyer searched prisons all over Egypt and no one could find a trace of me,” he said.
Senior CIA officials have confirmed that Nasr was regarded by the US as an Al-Qaeda operative. A team from Langley, Virginia, was dispatched to Milan to snatch him and fly him to Egypt.
According to Nasr, his ordeal began in CIA hands after he was bundled into a white van and driven to Aviano air force base. He claimed he had been beaten while bound and gagged, and thought he would die.
“I was bleeding: bleeding from my face, bleeding from my knees, bleeding from other parts of my body,” he said. “My mouth started foaming.”
Throughout his 13-hour journey via Ramstein in Germany to Egypt, nobody spoke to him. The CIA agents had wrapped him in masking tape “like a mummy” that made his face bleed when it was ripped off later.
Nasr claimed that in Cairo he had been taken to a room and told he was meeting two “pashas”, important people. He was asked: “Do you want to be an informer for us? If you say yes then you can be back in Italy in 24 hours.” When Nasr said no, they sent him back to his cell.
For the first seven months, he said, he had been in the hands of Egyptian foreign intelligence, allies of the CIA. He alleged its operatives had stripped him and given him constant beatings with bare knuckles, sticks and electric cables. One method involved handcuffing his leg to his hands, so he was forced to stand for hours on the other leg, while being beaten.
On September 14, 2003, he was handed over to Egyptian state security at its interrogation compound in the Nasr City district of Cairo. For the next seven months, his treatment grew worse.
“Once I was thrown on the floor and my hands were cuffed to my back and they brought a security agent who mounted my back and slapped on top of me so as to rape me. That’s when I broke down and I started screaming till I passed out.”
In April 2004, he was released for 23 days but was told it was on condition he did not speak to the media, telephone his wife and family in Italy or talk to human rights groups.
When he broke the rules and phoned home, his calls were tapped. A tap in Italy alerted the police to his kidnapping and they began the investigation that eventually identified the CIA team. Another phone tap in Egypt resulted in his rearrest. He continued to be held without charge in prison until early this year. At no point was he charged with any offence.
Nasr’s allegations are hard to verify in detail. He has not been examined by a doctor; nor has he been brought before a court.
According to Amnesty International, which alleges 18,000 prisoners are held without trial in Egypt, his account is credible.
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, an Amnesty expert on Egypt who interviewed Nasr, said: “Sending him back to Egypt, knowing that Egypt practices torture on a widespread scale and knowing that Abu Omar was wanted by the intelligence services, they knew he would be tortured.”
Egypt has acknowledged receiving 60 to 70 prisoners from the US. It denies that torture is routine and says when cases are identified, those responsible are punished.
The Egyptian interior ministry said Nasr was an unreliable character. “The information we had about him was that he was, one way or the other, an individual who embraced the ideology of jihad,” it said.
The CIA and the US government refused to discuss the case and refused to cooperate with the Italian judicial inquiry.
Stephen Grey interviewed Nasr for Dispatches, Kidnapped to Order, on Channel 4 tomorrow at 8pm

3 thoughts on “Preacher seized by CIA tells of torture in Egypt

  1. Dear Stephen,I feel so sorry that you spent 4 years of your life researching rendition.. I can some up in 4 seconds what 99% of the country think about it after seeing your documentary… they asked for it… they coverted it by their chosen lifestyle and asociations.. they were involved in some sort of plotting or terrorist dealing.. and they deserve it… Quite frankly most Birtish people don’t care. If you can find any ‘100% innocent’ people kidnappaed and interogated by secret service and intelligence agencies come back with a follow up. In the meantime we suggest you devote your time to more worthy causes.

  2. At least someone speaks out against these people. It does no good for us to fight terrorist if we are acting like them ourselves!~Krystyne~

  3. Perhaps I was under some misapprehension but as far as I am aware the innocence or guilt of a person is determined in a court of law. If these people are so guilty then surely there would be no problem in subjecting them to due process rather than kidnapping them.

    Furthermore it is shocking that a state organisation feels it is acceptable to ignore the territorial sovereignty of another state (Italy in this case) and kidnap one of its residents so they can torture him in another state.

    I cannot imagine the Bush administration finding it acceptable for the Italian secret services to kidnap someone from the streets of New York to then torture them in Egypt no matter how “guilty” they are thought to be.

    I am a British citizen and not afraid to put my name to my comment – perhaps anonymous would care to do the same?

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