updated 7/4/2005 5:24:19 PM ET 2005-07-04T21:24:19

The Italian government denied new media reports Monday that it was informed before the alleged CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003.

Rome newspaper La Repubblica quoted the former head of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, Michael Scheuer, as saying the CIA received authorization from Italy’s secret service, SISMI, before the operation.

Scheuer was quoted as saying the authorization came from SISMI’s director, Nicolo Pollari, and from one of his deputies.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s office denied the report.

“The premier’s office denies in the most absolute and categoric way that the government, the (premier’s) diplomatic aide, the SISMI director, or intelligence and security offices ever received any kind of information from U.S. authorities,” a statement from Berlusconi’s office said Monday.

“No contacts, no conversations, no information-sharing took place with regards to the Milan event, for which no authorization was ever requested or granted,” it said.

At a U.S. Independence Day party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence Monday evening, Ambassador Mel Sembler praised American-Italian relations, saying “they have never been so strong” and “will continue to grow.” Italian Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini, among the guests, said he fully shared Sembler’s assessment.

13 accused
Italian prosecutors have accused 13 purported CIA officials of kidnapping 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. The prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for the CIA employees.

The Egyptian preacher purportedly was seized as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program in which suspected terrorists are transferred without court approval to third countries, where they face interrogation and possible torture.

The Italian government had previously denied it had previous knowledge of the operation. Berlusconi summoned the U.S. ambassador to Italy last week.

On Monday, Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, in an U.S. Independence Day message to President Bush, said the friendship between their two nations “sinks its roots into a solid alliance [and] presupposes loyalty and reciprocal respect.”

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