Sat, Dec 24, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Italy issues EU warrant for 22 alleged CIA agents

EUROPE-WIDE An Italian magistrate issued the arrest warrant for the operatives suspected in the 2003 kidnapping of a radical Egyptian cleric on the streets of Milan

AP , ROME

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 yesterday.

The warrants were issued by Milan investigating magistrate Enrico Manzi, Italy's Sky TG24 news channel reported.

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 US 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 US 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-US.

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.

An EU warrant is automatically valid across the 25-nation bloc and does not require approval of any government.

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