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Italy seeks 6 more arrests in CIA case

Court issues warrants for agents in cleric's alleged kidnapping

This picture of Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan was published by an Italian newspaper.



Espionage and Intelligence

(CNN) -- An Italian court issued six new arrest warrants Monday for suspected CIA agents alleged to have kidnapped an Egyptian-born radical Muslim cleric in Milan.

Italian prosecutors allege the cleric was spirited to Egypt for interrogation and torture.

Milan Judge Chiara Nobile in June issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected CIA agents, all accused of kidnapping Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, in February 2003, a source close to the investigation said.

All 19 are now considered fugitives in Italy.

At the time of the alleged kidnapping, the Milan prosecutors were investigating the imam for his suspected links to terrorism.

The deputy district attorney of Milan and lead investigator, Armando Spataro, in a June statement called Nasr's alleged seizure "a totally illegal act that violates gravely Italy's sovereignty."

"It is also a damaging and counterproductive act against the efficiency of the fight against terrorism," Spataro said.

"If the kidnapping of the person in question had not been carried out, Nasr ... would now be detained and subject to Italian justice," he said.

"More importantly, the ongoing investigations had revealed important information which could have led to other suspects and arrests.

"The Italian investigation was a major breakthrough into a terrorist network in Milan which also operated overseas," he said.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi summoned U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler for an explanation, but no details of their meeting were released.

Last month, the Italian government vigorously denied allegations that it authorized the CIA to carry out the alleged kidnapping.

In an Italian newspaper interview earlier this month, former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer said Italy's SISMI military secret service approved the operation. (Full story)

CIA sources, who were not identified, told CNN that the agency briefed and sought approval from its Italian counterpart for the abduction.

The sources, speaking days before Scheuer's interview appeared July 4 in the Italian daily La Repubblica, said those actions were routine in such cases, known as "renditions" -- transfers of subjects from one country to another.

A former U.S. official, who also was not identified, said in March that the CIA uses the rendition process only with strict government oversight. A White House spokesman at the time denied the United States used the practice to "export torture." (Full story)

Responding to Scheuer's comments in La Repubblica, the prime minister's office said the analysts' allegations, "beyond being false, are also absolutely incompatible with the contents of the conversation between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and U.S. Ambassador to Rome Mel Sembler."

An Italian government statement said that "neither the government, nor diplomatic corps, nor the director of SISMI nor the information and security apparatus ever received any sort of advisement from United States authorities."

The row over the alleged operation comes only months after Italian agent Nicola Calipari was shot dead by U.S. troops at a checkpoint as he escorted a freed Italian hostage, Giuliana Sgrena, to Baghdad airport in March. (Full story)

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