Italian Judge Issues Warrants for CIA Operatives

An Italian judge has issued European arrest warrants for 22 purported CIA operatives wanted for the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric, a prosecutor said Friday.

Prosecutor Armando Spataro said the warrants allowed for the arrest of the suspects in any of the 25 European Union member countries. Italy issued warrants for the arrest of the 22 suspects within its own borders earlier this month.

Prosecutors are seeking the suspects' extradition for their alleged involvement in the abduction of Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a Milan street in February 2003.

The suspects are all described as U.S. citizens.

Prosecutors have identified one of them as Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA station chief in Milan who has since returned to the United States.

The whereabouts of the others are unknown. Lady's attorney, Daria Pesce, said the new warrants meant the alleged operatives could no longer travel to Europe without risking arrest.

"That's the only problem," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli has sought more court documentation on the case before deciding whether to forward an extradition request to Washington, Spataro said.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi, a top U.S. ally, suggested earlier this week that the government may not push the request, saying, "I don't think there is any basis in the case."

Pesce said that even if the extradition request was forwarded the U.S. would "never" allow the suspects to be extradited.

Pesce previously sought to have the Italian arrest warrant for Lady revoked, contending that her client should be protected by diplomatic immunity.

That appeal was turned down by a Milan judge, who said Lady lost his immunity when he left his post in 2004, and that consular officials could be prosecuted for grave crimes in any case.

Prosecutors allege that Nasr, a cleric believed to belong to an Islamic terror group, was flown from Italy to a military base in Germany before being put on a flight to Egypt, where he was tortured.

The alleged abduction was purportedly part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program, in which terrorism suspects are transferred to third countries without court approval.

Prosecutors say the abduction was a serious violation of Italian sovereignty that has hindered Italian terrorism investigations.

The Italian government has vigorously denied any prior knowledge of the alleged abduction and U.S. authorities have consistently declined to comment. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment on the warrants Friday.

Several European countries are investigating claims that the CIA shipped prisoners through European airports to secret detention centers, in breach of international and national laws.

Earlier this month, Berlusconi said Italy had no evidence of illegal CIA activity on its territory.