Cleric in CIA Kidnapping Case: Americans Tortured Me

An Egyptian cleric allegedly kidnapped off the streets of Italy by CIA agents in 2003 claimed Sunday that the Americans who abducted him "savagely" tortured him while deporting him to Egypt for interrogation.

The allegations by Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, who also is known as Abu Omar, are likely to intensify criticism of the United States' "extraordinary rendition" program. Italy has indicted 26 Americans and five Italian agents accused of seizing the cleric in 2003.

Nasr told the pan-Arab satellite TV station Al-Jazeera that he "was savagely tortured by the CIA when kidnapped and during my deportation" to Egypt.

He did not provide further details during the live interview. The CIA has repeatedly declined to comment on the case.

Nasr's case is the first criminal trial connected to the rendition policy, in which U.S. agents secretly transferred terror suspects for interrogation to third countries where critics say they faced torture. Nasr was released from an Egyptian prison on Feb. 11 after four years in Egyptian custody.

During the Al-Jazeera interview, Nasr, 44, did not discuss allegations he made last week that Egyptian authorities also tortured him while he was in prison here, but he said he had tried to commit suicide while in Egyptian custody.

"Yes, this happened, but I didn't do this out of my own will because I know what a grave sin it is to kill oneself," the bearded Muslim preacher said. "But I was pushed to do it. I was in a situation where I wasn't able to distinguish between heaven and Earth."

Italian prosecutors say Nasr — suspected of recruiting fighters for radical Islamic causes — was kidnapped from the streets of Milan in February 2003 by CIA agents with help from Italian agents. He was allegedly taken to Aviano Air Base near Venice, Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany, and then to Egypt for interrogation.

Italy has signaled it will not seek extradition of the 25 CIA agents and one U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, but it will likely try them in absentia. The State Department said last week the Bush administration has nothing more to say on Nasr's case.

Nasr on Sunday appealed to the Italian courts to reveal the "secrets of this operation."

A prosecutor in Milan had issued an arrest warrant for him in April 2005 as part of a terrorism investigation. According to Italian officials, Nasr fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, though Nasr's Egyptian lawyer has denied he visited those countries.

Nasr has said he was innocent and wanted to return to Italy, where he was granted political asylum in 2001, four years after entering illegally.

Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro said Thursday that judicial authorities would like Nasr to testify in the case against the American and Italian agents. But Egypt has not responded to an Italian request for access to Nasr.

Egypt, a close U.S. ally, has kept silent over its role in the case. Nasr was freed in 2004 but was re-arrested after only three weeks after he spoke to a journalist by phone. Egypt never officially acknowledged he was in custody, but Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif acknowledged in 2005 that "people have been sent" to Egypt, without saying how many.

Prosecutors elsewhere in Europe are moving ahead with cases aimed at the CIA program.

The Swiss government has approved prosecutors' plans to investigate the flight that allegedly took Nasr over Swiss airspace from Italy to Germany. In Germany, a Munich prosecutor recently issued arrest warrants for 13 people in another alleged CIA-orchestrated kidnapping, that of a German citizen who says he was seized in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonia border and flown to Afghanistan.