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Italy govt likely knew about CIA kidnap-minister

Written by: Staff

ROME, July 7 (Reuters) Italy's former government probably knew about the alleged CIA abduction of a terrorism suspect in 2003, new Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said, following the arrest of two Italian intelligence officials.

''It seems difficult to me that an operation of this sort, which would involve top-level intelligence agents, happened without the political authorities knowing absolutely anything about it,'' D'Alema told members of his centre-left coalition yesterday.

The comments were the strongest yet by a senior government official to suggest that the previous centre-right administration of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi might have known about the abduction.

Berlusconi's government, ousted in April elections, has fiercely denied any knowledge or connection to the matter.

Police arrested Italy's second-highest ranking military intelligence official, Marco Mancini, on Wednesday and placed another spy chief under house arrest for their possible role in the alleged kidnapping of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.

Prosecutors say a CIA-led team grabbed Nasr off a Milan street, bundled him into a van and later flew him to Egypt, where he is now being held without charges. Nasr says he was tortured under questioning there.

Beyond linking Italians to the kidnapping for the first time, a judge on Wednesday also raised to 26 the number of Americans -- most believed to be CIA agents -- who face arrest warrants over the Nasr case.

Prosecutors are expected to question Mancini on Friday. He denies any wrongdoing.

''We must get to the bottom of this to ascertain the truth given that it seems like there were secret agents that collaborated in carrying out a crime,'' D'Alema said in remarks carried by Italian media.

Any proof of Italian involvement would confirm charges by Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty made last month that European governments had colluded with Washington in secret prisoner transfers.

Nasr's lawyer told Reuters yesterday that the cleric plans to sue Italy for 10 million euros (12.7 million dollars) for allegedly helping the CIA kidnap him in Milan.

Nasr had political refugee status in Italy at the time of the alleged abduction but faces arrest in Italy on suspicion of terrorist activity including recruiting militants for Iraq.

Reuters DH VP0547

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