Italy: Imam Kidnapping News To Us

Silhouette of Spy, italy flag and the cia crest
The Italian government denied Thursday it had prior knowledge of the alleged CIA kidnapping of a radical Egyptian cleric in 2003, an operation that has led prosecutors to seek the arrest of 13 purported CIA operatives.

Carlo Giovanardi, minister for relations with parliament, addressed the Senate in response to opposition demands that Italy say whether authorities knew of plans to kidnap the Egyptian, considered an Islamic terrorist.

Italian prosecutors have accused the 13 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 Egyptian preacher purportedly was seized as part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program in which suspected terrorists are transferred to third countries without court approval, where they face interrogation and possible torture.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi's government has summoned the U.S. ambassador who was expected to meet with Italian officials Friday on the matter, Giovanardi said.

He said the reported operation was never "brought to the attention of the government of the republic or national institutions," often a term used to refer to Italy's intelligence agencies.

Therefore, he said, "it is not even possible" that Italy ever authorized such an operation.

Prosecutors have said they are preparing extradition requests for the 13 CIA operatives and have asked Interpol to help in tracing the suspects, all identified as U.S. citizens.