The Italian authorities have arrested two spy chiefs today for the kidnapping of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a.k.a. Abu Omar, taken from a street in Milan in 2003. The religious figure was secretly brought to Egypt by CIA agents active in Italy. According to information released from the prosecutor's office in Milan one of the two agents arrested is Marco Mancini, number 2 at Italy's Sismi military intelligence agency. The other agent arrested is General Gustavo Pignero.
During investigations conducted in the past year on the process of "extraordinary rendition", Abu Omar was seized by a CIA-led team on a Milan street in broad daylight, bundled into a van and driven to the Aviano air base. From there, he reappeared after a few months in the Tora prison in Cairo where, he said, he had been tortured during interrogations.
Last spring an Italian judge issued arrest warrants for 22 suspected U.S. CIA agents over the abduction. The American agents are still at large. The prosecutor's office also issued arrest warrants for four Americans over the CIA kidnapping of Abu Omar, considered a terrorism suspect. Three of the Americans are alleged CIA agents and the fourth worked at a U.S. military base in Aviano, northern Italy, at the time of the disappearance of Abu Omar from the country he had sought asylum in.
Here is also an interview I conducted with Montasser al-Zayat, Abu 3omar's lawyer in Cairo on May 17, 2006
When was your client kidnapped?
â€œHe was kidnapped on 17 February, 2003.â€�
â€œHe was kidnapped as he was going out from his home in Milan, heading to the mosque, on his feet. In one of the side streets, fifty meters before reaching the mosque, a red van stopped (in front of Abu Omar). A man, with American features, got out it. He was white, with red cheeks, blond hair. He flashed a card, shouting â€˜Police.â€™ I donâ€™t know the name of the street where he was stopped. Iâ€™m trying to recall from the notes I have written when I attended his interrogation at the prosecutorâ€™s office.â€�
Did the police officer speak to him (Abu Omar) in English or Italian?
"He spoke English, with an American accent."
And after he flashed his card saying â€˜Police?â€™
â€œHe (Abu Omar) could not see the card. The other guy shouted â€˜Policeâ€™, but Abu Omar couldnâ€™t see it. He (the alleged police officer) was covering his card with his fingers. Abu Omar said, â€˜I couldnâ€™t see the card.â€™ This person asked for Abu Omarâ€™s residency papers and his passport. He took them from him. He (Abu Omar) also had 450 Euros, which he (the alleged police officer) also took. He also took his personal mobile phone. As this was going on, he (Abu Omar) found the vanâ€™s door opening again. Two Italian-looking persons came out of it to grab him. â€˜They hit me, and threw me to the floor of the van,â€™ Abu Omar told his interrogator. â€˜Then they covered my face.â€™â€�
When you say â€�Italian looking personsâ€� what did you mean?
â€œThese are his (Abu Omarâ€™s) words, not mine.â€�
Did they speak to him in Italian?
â€œYes, their language was Italian.â€�
Then, what happened in the car?
â€œHe (Abu Omar) said they beat him to pacify him, as he resisted them. He said he resisted them, so they beat him until they overcame him, and threw him to the floor of the van and covered his face. The van then took off in speed to a location unknown to him. Later, they took him on board of a plane, a small one. He was blindfolded, and handcuffed. He couldnâ€™t know the type of the plan, but he could feel it was a small one. He said he boarded the plane, pushed by his kidnappers, by going three steps up. He also felt there were no seats in the plane.
â€œAs a result of his resistance, they use to beat him to pacify him. He said as soon as he boarded the plane, and was thrown to its floor, he was beaten so much that he felt his heart was stopping. So, they (his kidnappers) gave him a cardiac massage. They were hitting him in the heart.â€�
Before they took him to the plane, at this base, which the later reports said it was Aviano Air base, was he abused in any way?
â€œHe said, â€˜I was beaten in the street, when I was arrested. I was beaten in the van. I was beaten on the plane.â€™ And he was beaten later in the airbase that he assumes was an American airbase in Germany. And then he was tortured in Egypt.â€�
Was he handcuffed on the plane, or suspended from the ceiling, or what?
â€œHe was handcuffed, and blindfolded with a piece of cloth. The plane had flown for about an hour and half, when it landed in unknown location. But he was sure it was a non-civilian place. And it was a very cold place. He felt he was taken to a hall of a vast space. They stripped him off his clothes, and dressed him in blue overalls. They took the blindfold off his face. He saw in front of him a big number of people, wearing special forcesâ€™ fatigues. They were all dressed in black, and masked, without exceptions. All of them were masked. They were carrying guns. Then, they wrapped his face, all of it, with a sticking bandage. It was very tight. He said when he arrived in Egypt, and as they took the bandage off, his facial hear, moustache and beard were plucked off his face. Before they board him on another plane, they photographed him in the overalls. â€˜Then they wrapped my face with sticking bandage, and put me on another plane,â€™ he said.â€�
You also say he was beaten in that base which he thinks in Germany?
â€œI am a precise person, and that is why I enjoy credibility. Iâ€™m saying what my client is saying, and nothing more. He says â€˜I was beaten.â€™ But he didnâ€™t tell me how he was beaten. I assume this was to pacify him. In Egypt, he said, â€˜I was tortured.â€™ Thereâ€™s a difference that I can understand well. â€˜Torturedâ€™ is different from â€˜beaten.â€™ In these places (Italy and Germany) he received punches.
â€œIn the place where he thinks it was the American base in Germany, Iâ€™ll read to you what he said: â€˜I was beaten. I found a number of persons, masked, dressed in special operations fatigues. They photographed me. They beat me. Then they put me in other clothes, and wrapped my face in a sticking bandage. And then, they took me and put me on board of a plane.â€™ As you can see, he didnâ€™t say or specify how he was beaten.â€�
And when he arrived in Egypt?
â€œWhen he arrived in Egypt, he was taken to a facility near the (Cairo) airport. He was driven in a car, and the place was only fifteen minutes away. He said, â€˜The sticking bandage was taken off my face. I learnt later it was an Egyptian Mukhabarrat, the National Security Agency, building.â€™ He said he stayed in that Mukhabarrat building for seven months, or seven and half months, during which he was subject to torture.
"On the first day of his arrival at the Mukhabarrat building, he was given an offer. They would return him to Italy immediatelyâ€”and he had to take a decision about that right away before his kidnapping was exposedâ€”if he agreed to work as an agent for the Egyptian Mukhabarrat. He would return to Italy, and supply them with information. He was to be planted among the Islamistsâ€™ communities. But he refused. He says, â€˜I was tortured during the time I spent at the Mukhabarratâ€™s building. And I stayed in it for around seven months and a half.â€™ Then he was transferred to the State Security building in Nasr City. He said he was also subject there to torture for extended periods of time.â€�
Did he mention any details about the torture?
â€œNo... The interrogation I attended was requested by the Italians. The interrogation was held upon a request from an Italian judge to the Egyptian General Prosecutor. Whenever my client wanted to talk about the torture that happened, the interrogator would not allow him to, claiming this was a legal procedure solely about the incident of his kidnapping. Thatâ€™s why he was always interrupted whenever he spoke about the torture. But it was clear Abu Omar was trying to put on the records the fact he was tortured, and he was trying to hint at it whenever it was possible.â€�
When was this interrogation?
â€œIt was on last April the 6th (2006).â€�
When was the first time you ever met your client?
â€œI was notified in an official letter from the General Prosecutorâ€™s officeâ€”the office of the Cairo Appeals Prosecutor, Mr. Sherif al-Qadi, that Abu Omar was questioned in a hearing, but he refused to answer any questions except in the presence of his lawyer, Montasser al-Zayat. This letter was on March 19. The letter notified me that the hearing was postponed to April 6. Before April 6, I obtained a permission to visit him in Istiqbal Tora prison."
Which year is that?
â€œThis year! I never met him over the past three years at all except when these interrogations requested by the Italian judge were held.â€�
What about the news reports that mentioned his earlier temporary release, and the phone call he made to Italy?
â€œHe confirmed that to me. And he also saidâ€¦ he was referred to the State Security prosecutorâ€™s office, and was forced to say he returned to Egypt willfully without coercion.â€�
When were these interrogations?
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€�
â€œYes, in 2004; some time during his detention in State Security building (in Nasr City). He was interrogated by the State Security prosecutor days before his (temporary) release."
When was he released?
He was released in mid April 2004, for just 20 days. â€œThen I was re-detained in the beginning of May 2004,â€� he said.
Where did he stay these 20 days?
In his home in Alexandria.
They arrested him from his home then?
"They picked him up from his home in Alexandria. He said he had been warned not to speak with any one about the incident of his kidnapping and torture.
"He spoke with his wife in Italy and some of his friends in the Islamic Center or the mosque, and breached the warning. He spoke about his kidnapping and torture, so they came for him on the same day at his house and arrested him."
And the first time you saw him?
â€œIt was in March 2006.â€�
How many times have you seen him?
Where is this Mukhabarrat facility that is 15 minutes away from the Airport that Abu Omar spoke about?
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€�
MORE RESOURCES ON RENDITIONS:
Black Hole: The Fate of Islamists Rendered to Egypt
Gonzales defends renditions in Cairo
Nazif on renditions