Italy eyes extradition of CIA-led kidnappers-source

By Phil Stewart
Mon Jun 27, 2005 2:56 PM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Italy plans to seek the extradition of 13 CIA-led agents for the abduction of a radical Muslim cleric who was flown to Egypt and said he was tortured in prison there, a judicial source said on Monday.

The source, who declined to be named, said Italian prosecutors were considering treating the suspects as common fugitives and issuing an international request for their extradition to Italy.

"(Italian prosecutors) are evaluating procedures to expand the search for the fugitives internationally ... with the goal of their capture and extradition," the source told Reuters, without giving further details.

The U.S. embassy in Rome declined comment.

Milan Judge Chiara Nobili issued domestic arrest warrants last week for 10 men and three women, all believed to be U.S. citizens, a source said. Italian media say some have listed addresses in Washington and Virginia, many of them fictitious residences or post office boxes.

Prosecutors believe the suspects have left Italy, making extradition necessary if they do not come forward voluntarily.

Prosecutors have linked all 13 to the Feb. 17, 2003 abduction of imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, an Italian resident who was under investigation in Milan for terrorism at the time of his disappearance.

Court documents say that after being abducted Nasr, who was of Egyptian origin, was flown to Egypt and handed over to authorities there.

The Justice Ministry said it reviews all extradition requests but has not yet officially commented on the Nasr case.

If confirmed, it would be the first time that a close U.S. ally in the war on terrorism has sought the extradition of Americans on suspicion of carrying out "renditions," or secret transfers of suspects to foreign states for questioning.

The abduction of Nasr, who claims to have been partly crippled in Egyptian custody, sparked outrage in Italy.

Former President and Prime Minister Francesco Cossiga invoked national sovereignty and said the government should demand answers from President Bush.

"It would also be opportune to remind the American government, in the right ways, that the Republic of Italy is an independent and sovereign state," Cossiga said.

"The dramatic international situations (of the Cold War) are definitively over ... in which our country had a sort of limited sovereignty on matters of foreign, military and intelligence policy."

Opposition leaders are calling for a parliamentary hearing to see whether there was any Italian role in the operation. But the judicial source said there was no sign Italy was involved.

Nasr himself may clarify events. An Italian judge filed terrorism charges against him last week, raising the possibility that Egyptian authorities could send him back to Italy to face trial -- if they have him in custody.

Italy's Corriere della Sera on Monday quoted Abdelhamid Shari, a director at the Islamic institute in Milan, as saying Nasr, 42, was alive and being held in a prison in Cairo.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.