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Italy Denies Role in Alleged CIA Abduction

  • Sabina Castelfranco

Italy's government has forcefully denied Thursday any role in an alleged CIA-led abduction of an Egyptian imam. Italian news reports this week said a paramilitary officer confessed that he took part in the alleged operation.

Italian prosecutors are convinced the abduction of the Egyptian imam from the streets of Milan in February 2003 was part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval, subjecting them to possible torture.

Italian news reports say a carabiniere officer told Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who is investigating the case, that he took part in the operation in which the Egyptian imam, known as Abu Omar, was abducted.

Reports said the 45-year-old officer acted without the knowledge of his superiors and did so in response to a pressing request from a friend. According to the Italian news reports, his friend was the CIA station chief in Milan, identified as Robert Seldon Lady, who is now wanted in connection with the operation.

Seldon Lady's lawyer, Daria Pesce, described what he believes took place..

The lawyer says after having been abducted outside his Milan home, the imam is believed to have been taken first to the U.S. airbase in Aviano and from there, to Germany and then to Egypt, where he alleges he subsequently underwent torture.

In addition to the carabiniere officer's alleged confession to Milan magistrates, other news reports claimed Italy's military intelligence agency, SISMI, had cooperated with the Americans in the operation.

U.S. intelligence officials have not publicly commented on the latest allegations, but have acknowledged in the past that terror suspects have been transferred to other countries in a process known as rendition. Officials say the U.S. government receives assurances of humane treatment from the countries where the suspects are taken.

In a toughly worded statement Thursday, outgoing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government declared that neither he nor SISMI had any role in the alleged kidnapping.

Spataro, the Milan prosecutor, has issued arrest warrants against 22 CIA agents he believes were involved in the operation. But last month, the Italian justice minister said he would not forward to the United States an extradition request for the agents.

Milan prosecutors want to put the agents on trial. Spataro has said he would ask the incoming center-left government of Romano Prodi to forward his request to Washington.

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