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Italian spy director arrested over CIA kidnap

Written by: Staff
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ROME, July 5 (Reuters) Police have arrested a director at Italy's military intelligence agency on suspicion of helping the CIA in the alleged kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in Milan, officials said today.

It is the first time an Italian official has been linked to the 2003 abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

Nasr says he was flown to Egypt and tortured.

The arrest of Marco Mancini, a director of a division of the Sismi military intelligence agency, was first leaked by judicial sources and later confirmed in a statement by former Italian President Francesco Cossiga.

An Italian court has issued European arrest warrants for 22 suspected US agents over the abduction, but no Italians had been sought until now.

If an Italian role is confirmed, it would lend evidence to allegations that European countries colluded with the United States in the secret ''renditions'' of terrorism suspects.

Italian investigators had been wiretapping Nasr before his abduction and accuse him of having ties to al Qaeda and recruiting combatants for Iraq, according to court documents. They say the kidnapping broke Italian law and ruined a promising investigation.

Mancini was accused of collaborating in the kidnap, the sources said, adding that an official statement would be made later today by the prosecutor's office.

Cossiga, who is also a former interior minister with close contacts with the secret services, said in a statement that other Sismi officials were also being arrested.

An investigative source said the operation was still in progress.

The chief prosecutor in the case, Armando Spataro, declined comment.

The European Union's Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said he respected Spataro's decision to arrest Mancini.

''The prosecutor is investigating, he is accusing this officer of the Italian secret service, we'll see whether he is responsible or not,'' Fratini said in Brussels.

The Abu Omar case is one of the best known examples of alleged CIA secret operations in its war on terror, including the practice of ''extraordinary renditions''.

Human rights groups condemn the practice, saying suspects have frequently been sent by the United States to countries that practice torture.

Washington acknowledges making secret ''rendition'' transfers of terrorism suspects between countries, but denies either using torture itself against terrorist suspects or handing them over to countries that do so.

REUTERS CH BD1526

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