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Italian Government Says It Had No Prior Knowledge of Imam Kidnapping

Carlo Giovanardi
An Italian cabinet minister has denied that the government had prior knowledge of the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian imam, carried out by CIA operatives in Milan in 2003. A report in the Washington Post newspaper Thursday says the CIA station chief in Rome briefed and sought approval from his Italian counterpart for the operation. Italian prosecutors have issued 13 arrest warrants for CIA operatives they say abducted the cleric.

The minister for relations with the Italian parliament, Carlo Giovanardi, told parliament Thursday that Rome was not aware of the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian imam by CIA operatives in February 2003.

Mr. Giovanardi addressed parliament after the opposition demanded the government provide an explanation as to whether it was informed of the CIA action. The opposition's request was made after Italian prosecutors last week issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA operatives.

The minister said the reported operation was never brought to the attention of the government or of its national institutions, likely making reference to the Italian secret services. He added that it was not possible for Italy to have ever authorized such an operation.

Mr. Giovanardi also said that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had summoned the U.S. ambassador in Italy, who was likely to meet with him on Friday.

The man who was allegedly kidnapped by the CIA was Egyptian-born imam Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. He was allegedly pushed into a van by two people who had asked to look at his documents on February 13, 2003.

Italian investigators say the man was taken to an airbase in northern Italy and handed over to the Egyptian authorities in Cairo. There, he said, he was was taken to prison, interrogated and tortured.

Italian prosecutors say he was abducted as part of the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which suspect Islamic terrorists are transferred to third countries without a court order.

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