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Rome denies CIA man's kidnap claim

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



Espionage and Intelligence

ROME, Italy (CNN) -- The Italian government has vigorously denied allegations by a former CIA analyst that it authorized a suspected CIA-led kidnapping in Milan of a suspected Muslim terrorist, adding the claims do not match an explanation given the Italian government by the U.S. ambassador.

Last month, Milan Judge Chiara Nobile issued an arrest warrant for 13 suspected CIA agents accused of kidnapping Egyptian-born imam Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, in February 2003, a source close to the investigation told CNN, when the CIA spirited Omar out of Italy to Egypt where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured.

The Milan prosecutors were investigating Abu Omar at the time of his kidnapping for his alleged links to terrorism.

Last week, in its first official comment on the case, the Italian government denied having any knowledge on the alleged CIA-led kidnapping and summoned the U.S. ambassador to Italy, Mel Sembler, for an explanation.

Sembler and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi met Friday. No details of their meeting were given to the media. A press communique was issued in which the United States pledged to respect Italy's sovereignty. (Full story)

In Monday's edition of the Italian daily La Repubblica, former U .S. Central Intelligence Agency analyst Michael Scheuer is quoted as saying that the head of Italy's SISMI military secret service authorized the adduction of Abu Omar.

Berlusconi's office responded to the La Repubblica's article saying: "Those affirmations, 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."

The statement also 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.

"There was no contact, no conversation, no sharing of information regarding the Milan episode, for which reason no authorization was ever requested or given."

In the article, Scheuer said carrying out such an operation without the Italian intelligence knowing would be unthinkable. Scheuer said in every European country the CIA station chief has an "interlocutor" with whom all covert operations are coordinated.

"That is the case in France or in England. No one would ever think of moving in London without informing the MI6 or in Paris without informing the DGSE. Rome is no exception," said Scheuer, referring to intelligence organizations in those countries.

Last week, unnamed CIA sources also told CNN's David Ensor that the CIA had briefed and sought approval from its Italian counterpart for the operation.

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.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. more than 100 terrorism suspects are believed to have been transferred by the U.S. to Pakistan, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Uzbekistan and other countries, according to Britain's Guardian newspaper.

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