- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

ROME — Prosecutors said yesterday they had arrested two Italian intelligence officers and were seeking four more Americans as part of an investigation into the purported CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003.

The arrest of the two members of the Military Intelligence and Security Service, known by its Italian acronym SISMI, was the first official acknowledgment that Italian agents were involved in a case that prosecutors have called a violation of Italian sovereignty.

Prosecutors said three Americans being sought were CIA agents, while the fourth worked at the U.S.-Italian air base of Aviano, where the Egyptian purportedly was taken after his abduction.

The statement did not provide names but said the two Italians at the time of the kidnapping were the director of SISMI’s first division, dealing with international terrorism, and the head of the agency’s operations in northern Italy. Italian press identified the two as Marco Mancini, currently the head of military counterespionage, and Gustavo Pignero, and said they were charged with kidnapping.

Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, an Egyptian cleric and terrorist suspect also known as Abu Omar, purportedly was kidnapped from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the operation represented a severe breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised counterterrorism efforts, and have incriminated 22 purported CIA agents.

Prosecutors say Nasr was taken by the CIA to a U.S.-Italian air base and flown to Germany and then to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

The operation was thought to be part of a CIA program known as “extraordinary rendition” in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries.

Prosecutors and an attorney for Nasr say he is being held in a Cairo prison. Nasr is thought to have fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia and is suspected of recruiting Islamic militants.

Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi maintained that his government and Italian secret services had not taken part in the operation or been informed. In March, SISMI director Nicolo Pollari told lawmakers of the European Union that Italian agents had no knowledge of the operation.

Both SISMI and Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who has been leading the probe, declined to comment.

Mr. Spataro is seeking extradition of the 22 purported CIA agents accused in Nasr’s abduction. The previous government led by Mr. Berlusconi decided against forwarding Mr. Spataro’s extradition request to Washington, but Mr. Spataro has said he would ask the new center-left government led by Romano Prodi to make the request.

Also as part of the investigation, police yesterday searched the Milan offices of an Italian daily, Libero, and seized the computer of the newspaper’s deputy editor, Renato Farina. Police were looking for information they thought had been leaked by the SISMI to the journalist.

European investigator Dick Marty, a Swiss senator, reported to Europe’s top human rights body last month that 14 European countries, including Italy, had aided the movement of detainees who said they were abducted by U.S. agents and secretly transferred to prisons around the world.

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