ROME,(Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi”s government on Thursday denied a report that it authorised an alleged CIA-led kidnapping of a terrorist suspect in Milan in 2003.
The government summoned U.S. ambassador Mel Sembler to discuss the issue. The U.S. embassy in Rome declined to comment.
The Washington Post reported the CIA station chief in Rome had briefed and sought approval from his counterpart in Italy before the kidnapping. It said it obtained its information from four CIA veterans, three of whom had knowledge of the operation.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Carlo Giovanardi said there was no truth in suggestions Italy gave the CIA approval to fly Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, to Egypt. Prosecutors say they believe he was tortured there.
"The insinuations in the Washington Post are completely groundless," Giovanardi said in comments to parliament and later to reporters.
"The development of any such operation … was never brought to the knowledge of the government of the republic or national institutions," said Giovanardi.
"The prime minister has summoned the U.S. ambassador," he said.
It was the Italian government”s first official comment since Milan judge Chiara Nobili issued arrest warrants last week for 13 people who judicial sources say are linked to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the abduction.
When the White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley was asked on Thursday to comment on Italy”s reported plans to seek extradition of the suspects, he said:
"I really can”t. This is an action that comes out of the Italian court system. I understand that they have made some requests of the United States. Those requests will be handled in the normal legal channels."
Prosecutors believe all 13 have left Italy. The names of the 13 have been published in the Italian press and opposition politicians have questioned how they all managed to slip in and out of the country.
Nasr was already under investigation in Italy for alleged terrorist offences when he was seized in a Milan street on Feb. 17, 2003 and pushed into a white van.
The prosecutors” office says evidence suggests he was then flown home to Egypt, handed over to authorities and subjected to "physical violence" as part of interrogation methods.
It was the second time this year Italy has publicly summoned the U.S. ambassador.
In March, Sembler was called in by the government after U.S. troops in Iraq shot dead an Italian intelligence agent, Nicola Calipari.
But while Calipari”s death sparked anger in Italy, government reaction to the Nasr kidnapping has been muted.
"Minister Giovanardi hasn”t cleared up anything," said opposition Senator Tana de Zulueta, adding the government was carrying on with a "see nothing, hear nothing" policy.