boston.com your connection to The Boston Globe

Terrorism suspect faced likely arrest in Italy, judge says

But alleged abduction by CIA intervened

MILAN -- Italian authorities probably would have arrested and tried a terrorism suspect, Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, had he not been abducted from Italian soil by 13 alleged CIA agents, an Italian judge said in an arrest warrant released yesterday.

The warrant details how Italian police were on the verge of breaking up a ring that recruited as many as 200 militants from across Europe for suicide attacks in Iraq when the alleged US operatives snatched Nasr from a Milan street in February 2003. The next month, Italian police arrested other three other suspects, Egyptian-born El Ayashi Radi and two Iraqi Kurds, Mohamed Tahir Hammid and Mohamed Amin Mostafa, on charges of funneling money and fighters to Ansar al-Islam, an extremist group in northern Iraq that pledged to fight the US invasion.

''It is very probable that if he had not been abducted, Nasr would have been brought to legitimate justice," Judge Guido Salvini wrote in the warrant for Nasr's arrest.

Nasr had been granted asylum in Italy in 2001, on the grounds that he would have faced persecution in his native Egypt. The asylum gave him the right to remain in Italy, but Italian prosecutors say that the Americans returned him to Egypt because he was wanted there for his past association with a banned Egyptian group, Al Jamia Al Islamiya.

''For the first time in Italy's judicial history, a person with stable residence in our country, investigated for his role as an extremist, was taken with illegal action," Salvini wrote in the warrant, released to the public yesterday.

A separate warrant for the 13 American CIA operatives is expected to be released to the public today, Italian officials said. The American operatives are accused of kidnapping in an act known as ''extraordinary rendition" that violates an international treaty on the prevention of torture, a United Nations agreement on ''forced disappearances," and a 1985 US extradition treaty with Italy, the officials said yesterday.

The warrant released yesterday gave more details about the alleged torture that Nasr endured since he was seized in February, 2003, including the allegation that Nasr was beaten during interrogation at the US-controlled Aviano air base in Italy by a group of people who spoke both Italian and English.

The warrant also says that Nasr's American captors swiftly transported him to Cairo, where he was placed in custody and subjected to electric shocks on sensitive parts of his body, extremely hot and cold temperatures, and very loud noise after refusing to agree to work as an informer for Egypt's secret service.

Nasr later suffered major hearing loss and told an associate that he was ''near death," according to the warrant, which was signed by Salvini and filed in Milan. The warrant did not specify if he was talking about his physical or his emotional condition.

Although Italian authorities have expressed outrage at the unauthorized capture of Nasr, they also devote a large portion of the 106-page warrant to evidence of his involvement in international terrorism.

The document includes excerpts from transcripts of several intercepted telephone calls between Nasr, his wife, and his confidantes in Milan, and details a complicated network of international terrorism connected to Nasr and his associates

It notes, for instance, that Talaat Fouad Qassem, a spokesman for a militant organization known as the Islamic Group, was a guest in 1994 at the Islamic Cultural Center of Milan, a spiritual center where Nasr preached.

Qassem, also known as Abu Talal, disappeared a year later in what is now widely reported to have been an American abduction. According to the Washington Post, US officials captured him in Croatia in 1998 and took him by ship to Egypt, where he had already been sentenced to death. Qassem had been granted political asylum in Denmark.

A document on the hard drive of Nasr's computer was titled ''Military Jihad," which Salvini described as having three chapters: ''The Preparation of the Mujahideen," ''The Jihad and the Men and the Money," and ''The Creation of Jihad Factories."

In one wiretapped conversation that took place after Nasr was briefly released from prison in Egypt, he told his wife in Milan not to call him from their home phone -- an indication that he knew it was under surveillance. He also asked her several times if investigators came to take his computer.

In another call to a friend in Italy, Nasr complained that Egyptians had made his return a top priority. ''The Egyptian authorities want only three people in all of Italy," he said, including himself in the list.

His friend responded sympathetically that people at the mosque had been talking about his abduction. Kidnapping is not an Egyptian method, his friend said, ''but a method of the Americans."

Stockman reported from Washington and Celeste from Milan.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES
 
Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives