ROME - Police arrested two officials from Italy's military intelligence agency on Wednesday and a judge issued arrest warrants for four Americans over the alleged CIA kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in 2003, officials said.
Three of the Americans were alleged CIA agents and the fourth worked at the U.S. military air base in Aviano, northern Italy, a statement from the Milan prosecutor's office said.
An Italian police officer in Milan's Duomo square, July 8, 2005. Police arrested two officials from Italy's military intelligence agency on Wednesday and a judge issued arrest warrants for four Americans over the alleged CIA kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in 2003, officials said. (REUTERS/Daniele La Monaca)
It said Marco Mancini, director of a division of the Sismi military intelligence agency, and another Sismi official, had been arrested.
The new arrests and the warrants relate to the abduction of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. He says he was seized on a Milan street in broad daylight, bundled into a van and driven to Aviano.
He says he was then flown to Egypt and tortured under questioning.
An Italian court has already issued arrest warrants for 22 suspected U.S. agents over the abduction.
But it was the first time Italian officials have been linked to the investigation.
If an Italian role is confirmed, it would lend evidence to allegations that European countries colluded with the United States in the secret "renditions" of terrorism suspects.
Lawmakers in Italy's new centre-left ruling coalition accused former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of a cover-up during his five-year administration, which ended in April.
Berlusconi has fiercely denied that his administration or Sismi were involved in the kidnapping -- and even once summoned the U.S. ambassador to request Italian sovereignty be respected.
AL QAEDA, IRAQ
"Mancini's arrest confirms what we've said for a long time -- that is, that the previous government knew about Sismi's involvement in Abu Omar's kidnapping by the CIA," said Giovanni Russo Spena, a Senator with the Communist Refoundation party in the ruling coalition.
Italian investigators had been wiretapping Nasr before his abduction and accuse him of having ties to al Qaeda and recruiting combatants for Iraq, according to court documents.
They say the kidnapping broke Italian law and ruined a promising investigation.
Mancini was accused of collaborating in the kidnap, judicial sources said earlier on Wednesday.
The European Union's Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini said he respected the prosecutor's decision to arrest Mancini.
"The prosecutor is investigating, he is accusing this officer of the Italian secret service, we'll see whether he is responsible or not," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The Abu Omar case is one of the best known examples of alleged CIA secret operations in the U.S.-led "war on terror".
Human rights groups condemn "extraordinary rendition", saying suspects have frequently been sent by the United States to countries that practice torture.
Washington acknowledges making secret "rendition" transfers of terrorism suspects between countries, but denies either using torture itself against suspects or handing them over to countries that do so.
Additional reporting by Emilio Parodi in Milan and Ingrid Melander in Brussels
© Reuters 2006