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New Warrants For CIA Operatives

A judge has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives in connection with the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric from a Milan street in 2003, a prosecutor said Friday.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the warrants allowed for the arrest of the suspects in any of the 25 EU member countries. Previously, Italy had issued arrest warrants for the 22 inside Italy.

Spataro has already sought the extradition of the 22 from the U.S. However, the request has remained with Justice Minister Roberto Castelli, who has sought more court documentation on the case before making any decision on whether to forward it to Washington, Spataro said.

Earlier this week, Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a top U.S. ally, suggested the government may not push the prosecutors' request with Washington saying, "I don't think there is any basis in the case."

Castelli, for his part, has also questioned Spataro's motives in the case, suggesting the prosecutor was a leftist militant and anti-American.

Milan's chief prosecutor responded by saying he fully supported Spataro, the investigation and its findings.

The 22 people allegedly were involved in the kidnapping of cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

The cleric, believed to belong to an Islamic terror group, was allegedly abducted on a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003, before being flown to Egypt, where he was reportedly tortured.

The operation was believed part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries where some allegedly are subjected to torture.

Prosecutors say the cleric's abduction was a serious violation of Italian sovereignty, and that it had hindered Italian terrorism investigations.

In June, Berlusconi 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.

Nasr told his wife in an intercepted cell phone call from Egypt that he was tortured, the Milan prosecutor's office has said. He reportedly was hung upside down and subjected to extreme temperatures and loud noise that damaged his hearing.

The Milan prosecutor's office called the imam's disappearance a blow to Italy's own fight against terrorism. He had been under investigation for alleged terrorist activity in Italy at the time of his disappearance.

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