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Italy Orders Arrest of 'CIA Operatives' for Kidnapping

An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of 13 U.S. citizens linked to the Central Intelligence Agency. Italian authorities charge the Americans abducted an Egyptian imam from Milan, in northern Italy, over two years ago.

Italian magistrates say an Egyptian imam was seized from the streets of Milan in February 2003. They say CIA agents were responsible for the abduction of the man, known as Abu Omar, who was believed to belong to an Islamic terrorist group.

The Milan prosecutor's office issued arrest warrants for the 13 CIA operatives, saying the kidnapping of the Egyptian imam was a blow to a terrorism investigation underway in Italy.

The U.S. Embassy in Rome and government officials in Washington have declined to comment on the matter.

Italian investigators say the U.S. agents flew the cleric to Egypt, after taking him to the U.S. base at Aviano, in northern Italy. He is said by family to have been tortured in an Egyptian jail.

Abu Omar was reportedly let out of jail by the Egyptian authorities due to health reasons. Disobeying requests for him to keep silent, the man called his wife in Italy and an imam at a Milan mosque.

Newspaper reports say wiretaps of those conversations by the Italian police revealed how the imam was spirited away and tortured using electric shocks by the Egyptian authorities. He was taken back to prison in Egypt and has not been heard of since.

Italian authorities say Egypt has not responded to two requests for information.

In Italy, investigators say details of the operation became clearer when they were able to identify the cell phones used by the Americans, and the calls they made. They also identified the hotels where they stayed in Milan and the cars they rented.

Italian officials say the U.S. agents spent over $140,000 while in Milan.

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency is believed to have stepped up its program of extraordinary rendition, a process in which a suspect is captured in one country and flown to another country to be interrogated by that country's intelligence service.

It is unclear whether the Italian intelligence services were aware of the CIA's Milan operation.

Former Italian President Francesco Cossigam said Saturday Italy cannot sever diplomatic relations with the United States, and will likely set up an inquiry commission.