MILAN – A judge in Milan ordered on Friday the former head of Italy’s military intelligence to stand trial along with six Italian agents and 26 US citizens – most of them CIA agents – over the alleged abduction of an Egyptian Muslim extremist in Milan in 2003 in a US practice known as ‘extraordinary rendition’. The case will be the first criminal trial over the secret transfer by Washington of terror suspects to detention centers around the world. The trial is scheduled to begin on 8 June and the US citizens are expected to be tried in absentia.
Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, was allegedly seized by CIA and Italian officials in Milan in February 2003 and flown to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.
The Muslim cleric was freed this month from the Torah prison in Cairo. Local reports said he had to sign a statement in which he vowed not to leave his country to testify in Italy at the trial in exchange for his release.
Abu Omar also reportedly promised not to speak to journalists on the issue, nor sue, as he had promised, Italian government officials.
However his lawyer Montasser al Zayat said this week his client wanted to testify in Milan and meant to sue Italian opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, who was premier when Abu Omar was kidnapped, and ask for 10 million dollars in compensation.
The seven Italians indicted on Friday include the former head of Italy’s military intelligence SISMI, Nicolo Pollari.
Pollari, who stepped down as head of SISMI in November last year over the affair, is the highest official implicated in the case. He has always denied any involvement or knowledge by Italian agents in the kidnapping of Abu Omar.
Two Italian military intelligence officials, including Pollari’s deputy, were arrested in July in connection with the case. Prosecutors have issued arrest warrants for the 26 Americans, including the former head of CIA operations in Italy, Jeff Castelli, believed to have been involved in the abduction.
The case has fuelled allegations that Italy was among the European countries which allegedly aided ‘renditions’.
According to investigators, Abu Omar was taken by the CIA to the joint US-Italian Aviano air base, flown to Germany and then to Egypt.
The abduction occurred when conservative leader Berlusconi, a staunch US ally, was premier. Berlusconi has maintained that his government and the Italian secret services were not informed in the operation. His government declared documents on the case classified information – a position confirmed by its center-left successor led by Romano Prodi, who won national elections in April last year.