- The Washington Times - Friday, December 23, 2005

ROME — An Italian judge has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives wanted for the kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, a prosecutor said yesterday.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the warrants allowed for the arrest of the suspects in any of the 25 European Union member countries. Italy issued warrants for the arrest of the 22 suspects within its own borders earlier this month.

Prosecutors are seeking the suspects’ extradition for their purported involvement in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in February 2003.

The suspects are all described as U.S. citizens.

Prosecutors have identified one of them as Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan who has since returned to the United States.

The whereabouts of the others are unknown. Mr. Lady’s attorney, Daria Pesce, said the new warrants meant the operatives could no longer travel to Europe without risking arrest.

“That’s the only problem,” she said in a telephone interview.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has sought more court documentation on the case before deciding whether to forward an extradition request to Washington, Mr. Spataro said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a top U.S. ally, suggested earlier this week that the government may not push the request, saying, “I don’t think there is any basis in the case.”

Miss Pesce said that even if the extradition request was forwarded the United States would “never” allow the suspects to be extradited.

Miss Pesce previously sought to have the Italian arrest warrant for Mr. Lady revoked, contending that her client should be protected by diplomatic immunity.

That appeal was turned down by a Milan judge, who said Mr. Lady lost his immunity when he left his post in 2004, and that consular officials could be prosecuted for grave crimes in any case.

Prosecutors say Mr. Nasr, a cleric thought to belong to an Islamic terror group, was flown from Italy to a military base in Germany before being put on a flight to Egypt, where he was tortured.

The abduction was purportedly part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program, in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval.

Prosecutors say the abduction was a serious violation of Italian sovereignty that has hindered Italian terrorism investigations.

The Italian government has vigorously denied any prior knowledge of the abduction and U.S. authorities have consistently declined to comment. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on the warrants yesterday.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli also declined comment on the warrants.

However, he said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “has made it clear that, without speaking to the specifics of these cases, whatever we do is fully respectful of the sovereignty of our partners.”

Several European countries are investigating claims that the CIA shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers, in breach of international and national laws.

Earlier this month, Mr. Berlusconi said Italy had no evidence of illegal CIA activity on its territory.

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