- The Washington Times - Monday, July 17, 2006

ROME — Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy’s embattled SISMI military intelligence agency, was fighting for his job yesterday after failing to convince magistrates that he was not involved in the CIA kidnapping of Egyptian imam Abu Omar in Milan, reports said.

Two investigating magistrates, Judge Ferdinando Pomarici and Judge Armando Spataro, subjected the Italian spymaster to a four-hour interrogation at the Palace of Justice in Milan on Saturday.

At issue was evidence given by two of his top operatives at SISMI that directly implicated Mr. Pollari in the Feb. 17, 2003, “extreme rendition” — the sending of an untried criminal suspect to another country for interrogation or torture — of Abu Omar, judicial sources quoted by La Repubblica newspaper said.

The operatives were Marco Mancini, head of the agency’s counterespionage department, and Gustavo Pignero, Mr. Mancini’s predecessor at the department. The two were arrested July 5 on charges of assisting the CIA in the abduction of the 40-year-old Egyptian on a Milan street. Magistrates ordered the release of the two on Saturday.

Sources told La Repubblica that the magistrates were not convinced by the testimony of Gen. Pollari, who in the past had insisted his service had nothing to do with the seizure. They said the general potentially faced charges of aggravated aiding and abetting a kidnapping.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a center-leftist who took office this year, wants to replace Gen. Pollari as soon as possible if it is established that he sanctioned SISMI involvement in the kidnapping, according to sources at Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s office.

Among those Mr. Prodi is considering for the sensitive post is Giuseppe Cucchi, the head of the military policy office at the Italian Defense Ministry, who was the prime minister’s military adviser during his previous government from 1996 to 1998, La Repubblica said.

If evidence is not found against Gen. Pollari, he likely will be eased out of the SISMI job and into another prestigious security job, perhaps as head of the Finance Police, said the sources.

There is growing concern that the affair has left Italy’s intelligence apparatus rudderless at a time of dangerous instability in the Middle East. SISMI has long considered itself one of the most effective intelligence services in the region.

Mr. Prodi followed developments in the Abu Omar investigation while in St. Petersburg for the Group of Eight summit, but told reporters he had not mentioned the affair to President Bush.

“I don’t think that President Bush knows the SISMI initials,” Mr. Prodi said. “We didn’t talk about it.”

After the disclosure of the kidnapping and subsequent torture of Abu Omar, Italian magistrates issued arrest warrants for 22 CIA agents thought to have been involved in the case, straining relations between Washington and Rome.

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