ROME — An Italian judge yesterday ordered the arrests of 13 CIA officers for secretly transporting a Muslim cleric from Italy to Egypt as part of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts — a rare public objection to the practice by a close ally.
The Egyptian was spirited away in 2003, purportedly as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program in which terror suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval.
The arrest warrants were announced yesterday by the Milan prosecutor’s office, which has called the disappearance a kidnapping and a blow to a terrorism investigation in Italy. The office said the imam was believed to belong to an Islamic terrorist group.
The 13 are accused of seizing Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, known as Abu Omar, on a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, and sending him to Egypt, where he reportedly was tortured, said Milan prosecutor Manlio Claudio Minale.
The U.S. Embassy in Rome and the CIA in Washington declined to comment.
The prosecutor’s statement did not name the suspects, give their nationalities or mention the CIA by name. But an Italian official familiar with the investigation confirmed newspaper reports that the suspects worked for the CIA.
The official also said there was no evidence Italians were involved or knew about the operation.
Mr. Minale said the suspects remain at large and Italian authorities will ask the United States and Egypt for assistance in the case.
The prosecutor’s office said Mr. Nasr was released by the Egyptians after his interrogation but was arrested again later.
The statement said Mr. Nasr was seized by two persons as he was walking from his home toward a mosque and bundled into a white van. He was taken to Aviano, a joint U.S.-Italian military base north of Venice, and flown to a U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany, before being taken to Cairo.
The daily, Il Giorno, said all the agents were American and three were women.
It said investigators had confirmed the abduction through an eyewitness account and other, unidentified witnesses as well as through an analysis of cell phone traffic.
In March 2003, “U.S. authorities” told Italian police Mr. Nasr had been taken to the Balkans, the statement said. A year later, in April-May 2004, Mr. Nasr phoned his wife and another unidentified Egyptian citizen and told them he had been subjected to violent treatment by interrogators in Egypt, the prosecutor’s statement said.
Italian newspapers have reported that Mr. Nasr, 42, said in the wiretapped calls that he was tortured with electric shocks.
Mr. Minale said a judge also issued a separate arrest warrant for Imam Mr. Nasr on terrorism charges. In that warrant, Judge Guido Salvini said Mr. Nasr’s seizure violated Italian sovereignty, according to Italian news agency Apcom.