MILAN: A top Italian prosecutor Wednesday made his case against 26 US secret agents accused of snatching a terror suspect from a Milan street and sending him home to Egypt where he claims he was tortured.
No one could seriously argue that they were in Italy for other reasons than to abduct Milan imam Abu Omar and transfer him to Cairo via two US military bases, said Amando Spataro, citing detailed aviation, cell phone, rental car and hotel records.
The data of all the flights … indisputably show one sole possibility, Spataro said as he began closing arguments in the case.
Abu Omar, whose real name is Osama Hassan Nasr, was abducted while walking to his mosque here in February 2003 in what was thought to be among scores of covert kidnappings around the world since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, in the so-called extraordinary rendition program.
The radical Islamist opposition figure, who enjoyed political asylum in Italy, was taken to the US air force base in Aviano, northeastern Italy, then flown to the US base in Ramstein, Germany, and on to Cairo, Spataro said.
Two protesters broke into the trial at the end of the morning session demanding justice for Abu Omar. A handful of others outside the courthouse said they were prevented from entering the public trial, with scores of riot police blocking the entrance to the courthouse.
Twenty-six Americans – 25 CIA agents including the former CIA substation chief in Milan, Robert Lady, plus an air force colonel – are being tried in absentia in the case.
Lady, who left Milan soon after Spataro opened the probe, had a very interesting warning e-mail on his home computer, the prosecutor said.
Six of the defendants were at the scene of the kidnapping, while the others assisted in the operation, Spataro charged.
Cesare Bulgheroni, a lawyer hired to represent Air Force Col. Joseph Romano, who was head of security at Aviano at the time, filed a US Department of Defense request for the Italian court to transfer the case to a US military court since the alleged actions happened while he was carrying out his duties. The judge rejected the motion.
Spataro called the request unbelievable and a little bizarre, noting that it came 2 1/2 years after the trial began.
US defendant Sabrina De Sousa also has hired a lawyer to represent her as the case draws to a close. The lawyer, Dario Bolognesi, said during a break that the case against his client relies on evidence that he will argue has been excluded from the proceedings by a constitutional court ruling that said certain evidence was classified.
De Sousa says she was a foreign service officer in Milan and denies she worked for the CIA.
Interpol has issued international arrest warrants for all 26, but successive Italian governments have declined to seek their extradition from the United States, while government lawyers sought to have the case thrown out as a threat to national security.
The issue went before Italy s Constitutional Court, which agreed that part of the investigation had violated state secrecy provisions but said the prosecution could use evidence obtained correctly
The former head of Italian military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, had to resign over the affair.
He and six other Italian defendants took the stand in May but refused to answer any questions, saying they were protected by state secrecy laws.
The Italian government has denied any involvement, and all defendants, or their lawyers, have denied the charges.
The imam s suspected captors failed to take many standard precautions, notably speaking openly on cell phones, leaving investigators to suspect that the Americans had cleared their intentions with senior Italian intelligence officials.
Although dozens of cell phone contracts allegedly used for the operation were under false names, Spataro s probe was able to link them to the operatives because they used their real names at the hotels where they lodged, he said.
Abu Omar, who was held for four years in a high-security prison outside Cairo, spoke after his release of torture and humiliation during his incarceration.
Spataro, who made his name through his work against the left-wing militant group the Red Brigades that was active in the 1970s, had been building a potential terrorism case against Abu Omar for months before the kidnapping and had secured convictions of a number of his acquaintances.
On Wednesday he questioned the timing of the CIA operation while he was closing in on the flow of terror suspects through Italy, saying it hurt the fight against terrorism.
Abu Omar, through his lawyer, has denied allegations that he fought in Afghanistan and was involved in recruiting fighters to go to Iraq.
In his closing arguments, the prosecutor said the Egyptian had been under investigation on suspicion of helping potential suicide bombers travel from Europe to Afghanistan and Iraq when he was taken from Italy. It was precisely because of that role, Spataro argued, that US authorities wanted to interrogate him, noting the kidnapping happened after the US military engagement in Afghanistan had started, and before US forces entered Iraq.
He said the CIA and Italian intelligence had planted misinformation early in the investigation saying the Egyptian had left Italy and returned voluntarily to the Balkans, where he had been living before being granted political asylum in Italy.
But he said evidence refutes attempts to portray Nasr s disappearance as voluntary, including an account by a witness who saw his abduction; wiretaps of phone calls between Nasr and his wife after his release from an Egyptian prison in 2004; records of cell-phone use that helped investigators identify the American suspects; and evidence of the aircraft used to transport Nasr to Germany and onward to Egypt.
Another hearing is scheduled next Wednesday, and a verdict is expected by the end of the year. -Agencies