Prosecutors said Wednesday they had arrested two Italian intelligence officers and were seeking four more Americans as part of an investigation into the alleged CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003.
The arrest of the two SISMI intelligence officials was the first official acknowledgment that Italian agents were involved in a case that the government has complained was a violation of its sovereignty.
In a statement released in Milan, prosecutors said three Americans being sought were CIA agents, while the fourth worked at the joint U.S.-Italian air base of Aviano, where the Egyptian was allegedly 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 reports 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, was allegedly kidnapped from a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003. Prosecutors say the operation represented a severe breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised their anti-terrorism efforts, and have already incriminated 22 purported CIA agents.
Prosecutors say Nasr was taken by the CIA to a joint U.S.-Italian air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
The operation was believed part of a CIA program known as “extraordinary rendition” in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries.
Jailed in Cairo
Prosecutors and a lawyer for Nasr say he is being held in a Cairo prison.
Italian news media say he is believed to have fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia and was under surveillance on suspicion of recruiting Islamic militants. Prosecutors say his alleged kidnapping disrupted a major anti-terrorism operation but have declined to give details.
Both SISMI and Milan prosecutor Armando Spataro, who has been leading the probe, declined comment.
Farina has covered the case, and the newspaper said police were looking for information they thought had been leaked by the SISMI to the journalist.
Italian media reports in recent months have said that Italian intelligence officers had also been involved. A report published in La Repubblica in May claimed that the SISMI’s operations unit had cooperated with the Americans.
But former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly maintained his government and Italian secret services had not been informed about the operation or taken part in it. In March, SISMI director Nicolo Pollari told EU lawmakers that Italian agents played no part and had no knowledge of the operation.
Spataro is seeking the extradition of the 22 purported CIA agents accused in the abduction. The previous government led by Berlusconi decided against forwarding Spataro’s extradition request to Washington, but Spataro has said he would ask the new center-left government led by Romano Prodi to make the request.
Spataro said the investigation might be finished this month and then he would seek indictments against the 22. A judge must then rule on whether they would stand trial.
Also as part of the investigation, the Milan offices of an Italian daily, Libero, were searched Wednesday by about a dozen policemen, who seized the computer of the newspaper’s deputy editor, Renato Farina.