London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Today, Osama Mustafa Hasan Nasr, known as Abu Omar al-Masri, is considered one of the most prominent Islamists in Europe regarding the issue of forced kidnappings that have been carried out against (Islamic) fundamentalists since the 9/11 attacks. The former Imam of a Milanese mosque was kidnapped in Italy and taken to Egypt.
Abu Omar, who was suspected of involvement in terrorist activity, was kidnapped in Milan one day in February, 2003, and then reappeared in Cairo in April 2004 after being released. However, he spent only 20 days as a free man in his house when he was forced to return to Egyptian prison cells, only to be released once again by Egyptian authorities last week. Abu Omar was the cause of a political crisis between Rome and Washington when an Italian judge ordered the arrest of 26 CIA agents, along with nine Italian intelligence agents. The chief of Italian intelligence was dismissed from his position, and all CIA agents and Italian intelligence agents involved in the case are to stand trial before a criminal court that is scheduled to begin next June. Abu Omar however still fears the possibility of being arrested again and torture in case the decision to prohibit him from leaving Egypt is not overturned. He has demanded the right to return to Italy in order to prove his innocence. Abu Omar’s case has been condemned by the Council of Europe in its report concerning the secret renditions carried out by the CIA.
Asharq Al Awsat sent questions to Abu Omar via his attorney Muntasir al Zayyat, to which he replies as follows:
Q) How many months passed between the point of your kidnapping from Milan and your release from Egyptian authorities?
A) I was kidnapped in Milan, Italy on 17 February, 2003 and arrived in Egypt on 18 February, 2003. I remained in Egyptian detention centers until the day I was released, 20 April, 2004, therefore, I was imprisoned for about 14 months.
Q) Did any members of your family visit you during your detention in Egypt, and how many times did you meet with your attorney Muntasir al Zayyat whilst you were in prison?
A) None of the members of my family knew where I was. My attorney Muntasir al Zayyat was looking for me when I was deported. It seems that some brothers had told him about their suspicions that I had been kidnapped. Only the security and intelligence agencies knew about the kidnapping from the streets of Milan. Egyptian security authorities had warned me not to talk about my detention, and the decision to detain me again was issued 23 days after I was released. So they arrested me again on 15 May, 2004. Nobody was allowed to visit me until several months later. On a number of occasions, I was forbidden to have visitors because of the escalation [of reports about me] in the press, but I was visited several times by Muntasir al-Zayyat.
Q) In your view, why did the Egyptian authorities prevent you from traveling to Italy to defend your case and reveal the truth about the kidnapping that many other Islamists have been victims of?
A) This is a question that you should ask the Egyptian authorities. The question that I should answer is why did I violate the security orders (imposed upon me) after I was released on 20 April, 2004 by contacting my wife and friends in Italy? In short, I had two choices, both of which were bad. I was sure that there was a long line of Islamists in Italy who would be kidnapped the same way that I was. I was asking myself: Do I want to live a nice life with my family and watch my Muslim brothers suffer the same fate [as me] and be tortured and abused by the CIA? Could I endure the psychological pain that I would have as a result of abandoning them? I voluntarily chose to reveal the plans of the CIA. I praise God, who has enabled me to be the cause of the putting an end to most of the US kidnapping operations against (Islamic) fundamentalists.
Q) Were you aware of the situation on the outside either during the time of your detention in the Egyptian intelligence or state security buildings or at the Tora prison?
A) Following the kidnapping on 17 February, 2003 and until my release on 20 April, 2004, I was totally cut off from the world. I was not allowed to look at any newspapers, listen to the radio, or watch television. I had no idea what was happening outside of my prison cell.
However, the second time I was detained, from 15 May, 2004 until 11 February, 2007, I was allowed to read newspapers, and after [former Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi lost the elections in Italy, I was permitted to exercise several times a day, read the Egyptian papers, and bring in a radio with one wave-length.
Q) What were the defenses that your attorney used in order to bring about the decision to have you released?
A) I was never charged with anything. I was detained all these years. I was judicially released and then re-arrested eight or nine times. My release on 11 February this year was by ministerial order after Major General Habib al Adili’s visit to Italy and the escalation of reports in the media and efforts by human rights organizations who demanded my release.
Q) Did you meet any Islamists detained in Egyptian prisons during your detention?
A) Yes, I met most of them, both in prison and at the police stations where I was held for several days. Allow me to take this opportunity to appeal to [Egyptian] President Mubarak to issue a presidential pardon for all the Islamists being detained, of whom there are between 5,000 and 6,000, as an act of mercy towards them and their families. I call on President Mubarak to turn over a new leaf with the Islamists in Egypt that would be characterized by love, respect, and mutual sincerity.
Q) How do you spend your days in Alexandria? Are you allowed to preach?
A) The days go by slowly and I’m depressed in Alexandria, where I live with my family. I am being closely monitored after the restrictions against talking to the press have been lifted. I hope I will not be re-arrested because of my violation of the security instructions. I am physically unwell and I cannot endure any more imprisonment. I am not at all permitted to preach or to make appeals to follow the path of God — may He be exalted. But prayer to God does not require permission from the security authorities. I have permission from Almighty God and whatever will happen, will happen.
Q) Is it true that you are thinking about starting a business in order to support your family? If so, what sort of business is appropriate for you?
A) If only you knew my financial situation and how I suffer from poverty. I have spent four years in jail and under arrest. My family has no material income, and my children are abroad and want to visit me but they cannot pay the price of a ticket to come to Egypt. I cannot work. Prison has turned me into a wreck of a man. I have heart problems and pains in my spinal column. I am hard of hearing. I suffer from a number of illnesses and do not expect to live for more than another three years. For this reason, I have promised God that I will devote the remaining years of my life to defending people who have been unjustly treated, wherever they are in this world, and whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims. In the near future I will be contacting the human rights organizations, and I will be working with them in this humane field, far removed from politics. Politics has no heart and no religion. Let me also take this opportunity to demand that US President Bush close the Guantanamo detention camp and release the remaining prisoners there.
Q) Will you write about your experience in a book?
A) This is conceivable, but I am looking for a publisher. I would like these memoirs to come out in a number of languages besides Arabic.
Q) Did you encounter any sympathy from any of the policemen during your detention, especially since no judgments were reached against you in Egypt?
A) Please allow me to refrain from answering that question.
Q) What verse of the Quran did you adhere to and repeat to yourself during your detention?
A) “O Lord! Prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me” (Surah Yusuf; Verse 33). This is because they invite me to return to Italy and spy on the Muslims there and work for the Italian intelligence agencies in return for money.