London Asharq Al-Awsat- Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, otherwise known as Abu Omar al Masri, has provided detailed information to Asharq Al Awsat regarding his case, which is now at the center of a European-American dispute after the CIA was accused of abducting him in broad daylight from a street in Milan and handing him over to Egyptian authorities. In an eleven-page handwritten letter delivered to Asharq Al Awsat, Abu Omar revealed details about his abduction and said that Egyptian and American intelligence services had infiltrated his mosque and home prior to his abduction based on suspicions of links to Al Qaeda.
In the letter that was sent via the Islamic Observation Center, a London-based human rights group that monitors the developments of cases involving fundamentalists worldwide, Abu Omar said that whilst he was being interrogated, a security commander told him that he had visited Italy shortly before the abduction took place and described to him his mosque (the Islamic Cultural Institute) and the street where it is located, as well as the roads that lead to Abu Omar’s home in Milan and the floor that he lives on.
In his letter, which he sent from within Tora Prison in Cairo, Abu Omar expressed his belief that his mobile phone in Italy had been tapped. He explained that Austrian authorities summoned Sheikh Muhammad Shawqi, a preacher, and questioned him about all matters related to Abu Omar. He wondered if Austrian authorities had also played a role in his abduction in broad daylight at the hands of CIA agents on February 17, 2003.
Abu Omar, who is suing former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi for 10 million Euros for his part in the abduction, demanded that a hearing be scheduled for Nabil al Tunisi, currently imprisoned in Milan because he potentially holds useful information on the circumstances surrounding the abduction. Abu Omar also spoke of what he called round-the-clock monitoring of his cellular phone and computer prior to the abduction. He said, “I would receive calls on my mobile phone from people asking for Abu Omar, and they would often hang up before I could respond. I also received hundreds of email viruses.” He explained that a security officer had told him during interrogations that a video camera had been installed in his apartment in Milan and that it had monitored him for a significant period.
Abu Omar wrote about a man he referred to as the ‘Pasha’, a senior security officer, who, with his eyes closed, had asked him one question: “If we return you to Italy immediately, would you be willing to work and cooperate with us?” Abu Omar turned down the rare opportunity, launching a long series of interrogations, as he put it.
For his part, Yasser al Sirri, director of the Islamic Observation Center, said that the case of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr proves the involvement of a number of European countries as well as Egyptian and American intelligence. He went on to say that what happened is evidence that “Islamists” are being targeted, and that these violations are committed at the highest levels in full coordination with western intelligence agencies. Al Sirri said that Mustafa Nasr received no verdicts in Egypt and that no charges have been brought against him since his arbitrary arrest. He stressed that the organization condemns and denounces such acts and urged human rights organizations to intervene and release Nasr and the remaining detainees.
Regarding his abduction from one of Milan’s streets, Abu Omar said, “I was walking down Conte Verde Street on my way to the mosque for afternoon prayers at the Islamic Cultural Institute on Jenner Street – I had quit my job at the Islamic Community Mosque on 45 Street months before my abduction.” He added: “At the moment of my abduction, I was carrying 450 Euros, 400 Euros of which was rent money that I was going to pay for the house I live in with my wife. I also had my Italian passport, Italian residency permit, mobile phone, personal medical card, social security card, a wristwatch, and the keys to my apartment in Conte Verde Street.” He added: “These belongings are in the possession of security authorities in Egypt, and none of them have been returned to me.”
He continued, “I saw a red Fiat 127 as I passed a public park on my way to the mosque. A man emerged from the car and produced an identity card and stated that he was police. He asked me for my papers (sigorno), and I complied and pulled out the Italian document. He called a number and began to dictate my personal information over the phone. I was focused on the man and did not notice the minibus parked near my house as it moved and stopped next to where I was standing, and before I knew it, I was being lifted off the ground. I turned my face and saw two Italian-looking men, both in the thirties and each over 6ft tall. The American, however, looked like he was in his forties. My abduction was witnessed by an Egyptian woman who lives on that street. She reported the incident to the worshippers in the Islamic Cultural Institute.”
Abu Omar elaborated: “I tried to resist but I was hit extremely hard in my stomach and beaten. I was shoved into the car, my face was covered, and my hands and feet were tied. The car sped away, and I was twisting in pain from the beating. I began to feel faint and I was foaming at the mouth and involuntarily urinated. I heard one of the two abductors shout, and the two men raced to rip my clothes apart. One of them pressed hard against my chest and started massaging my heart while the other lifted the cover off my face.”
Abu Omar said he was transported to a car or small airplane but was unsure at the time because he was sedated. He said: “I was not fully conscious, maybe because of the severity of the blows and the pain I was in, or maybe they had given me a mild tranquilizer. About an hour later, they escorted me to some place while I was still blindfolded and bound at the hands and feet. Judging from the air conditioning and the sounds of engines, it seemed to be an airport. A short while later there was the sound of many footsteps. They stripped me of my clothes and the blindfold fell off. I saw people dressed like special operation forces. They photographed me, covered my head with thick tape, leaving openings at my nose and mouth, bound my hands and feet with plastic restraints, and then lifted me and placed me lying down inside an airplane.”
He continued, “The plane was in the air for about seven hours, and I did not know where I was being taken. At that time, I had not been offered any food since I was abducted from the street. I suffered from short breath whilst on the plane, but none of them showed any concern until they thought and were sure I was close to dying, at which point they hooked up a respirator to my nose. They struck me a number of times. I sensed our arrival at our destination, and it was only minutes before the plane began its descent. They removed my ear plugs and I could hear the plane’s engines, and then the sounds of footsteps approaching me. They stood me up, and I felt myself go down three or four steps. I was then sure it was either a military or private plane.”
Abu Omar added, “Once my feet touched the ground, I heard a man who spoke the Egyptian dialect of Arabic tell me to get in. They pushed me into a microbus. I think he saw blood dripping from my hand, so he cut the plastic restraints and replaced them with metal handcuffs. I was sure that I would die. The car sped down one of the streets in Cairo and stopped in front of a building. I was led to a room, where they removed my restraints and replaced my clothes with a blue prison uniform. I was completely exhausted. They escorted me to an office and sat me in a chair. I heard someone say, ‘we will start interrogating you now.’ He began to question me about my name, my job, my family, and my travels outside Egypt. Conditions inside the cell were horrible. They left me without the blindfold and the cell was extremely hot. Temperatures inside the cell would reach 50 degrees Celsius in the summer and would fall below zero in the winter, causing me rheumatism and osteoporosis.”
Abu Omar continued, “The interrogation went on for seven months, from 18 February to 14 September 2003. Those seven months felt like seven years; seven years of pain and torture. I was completely prohibited from reading newspapers and magazines and listening to the news. Everything was prohibited. I used to tell myself that the Italian government would not abandon me and that the Italian ambassador would come and see me since I am an Italian citizen, but none of those wishes came true. They told me they were transporting me to a different location. I thought my pain was over and that they were going to take me to an airport where I would board a plane to Italy. The car was on the road for about an hour before it stopped outside a building. They ordered me to get out of the car. I then learnt that this new place was the State Security building in Nasr City. My cell measured two meters by four with absolutely no ventilation except for an air suction unit. There was only one blanket, and the cell was underground. I could not tell night from day and I did not know the prayer times or the Qiblah (the direction Muslims face in prayer). I stayed in that place for seven and a half months, and I was interrogated twice a day, from 11am until the afternoon, and again from 9pm until just before dawn. They would tell me that Italy handed me over to Egypt and that no one from Rome would come to my rescue. They always made sure I was blindfolded so I would not be able to see the officer who was interrogating me.”
Abu Omar spoke about his release in April 2004 and his vow not to speak about what had happened to him, however he said that 20 days after his return to his home and family in Alexandria, he called his wife and friends in Europe and told them about everything that had happened to him from his abduction to his incarceration in Egypt. He was arrested again. Abu Omar stated that a security officer had set him some rules; no attending the mosques affiliated to the Gamaa Islamiya, no contact with Europe, no travel, no preaching in mosques, and no traveling outside of Alexandria. He was arrested and sent to Tora prison.
Last October, the Italian judiciary concluded an investigation into the abduction of Hassan Osama Mustafa Nasr and his transportation by American intelligence to Egypt, where he was tortured. The Italian government made a series of changes to the leadership of the intelligence agency, dismissing the director of central intelligence, General Nicolo Pollari, and charging him for alleged involvement in the abduction of Abu Omar at the hands of American intelligence.