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Italy Says CIA Agents Guilty of Abduction, Issues Europe-Wide Arrest Warrants

The Italian police say they have hard evidence that 13 CIA agents planned and executed what has become known as a 'rendition', when they abducted an Imam named Abu Omar from Milan and flew him to Egypt, where authorities are said to have tortured him.

By Paolo Biondani

June 27, 2005

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MILAN: As of Monday, 13 CIA agents are being sought for arrest throughout Europe. The agents are accused of abducting Imam Abu Omar in Milan and taking him to Egypt where he was tortured. The formal transmission of the arrest warrants to the Eurojust judicial coordination office means that they are immediately effective throughout all E.U. member countries. [Eurojust is Europe's main agency for judicial cooperation]. At this stage every European police officer could arrest as well as identify the 13 CIA agents who are now "on the run."

—NPR NEWS AUDIO: Italy Says CIA Agents Guilty of Abduction, Left Much Evidence, June 25, 00:03:27

According to the American press, the CIA is believed to have taken steps to relocate the operatives outside Europe. The investigation, which so far has involved the U.S. Consulate in Milan, has now widened to include the U.S. embassy. According to sources at DIGOS, the special operations branch of the Italian police, some of the abductors are thought to have used, "cell phones that are amongst the items issued to U.S. diplomatic staff in Rome," and are said to have been used "even during the abduction."


The public prosecutor's office has asked police forensic scientists to enhance the photos of the 13 CIA abductors to facilitate the Europe-wide search. The entire "photo album" will be forwarded to Eurojust and Europol, the coordinating body for Europe's police forces, to be circulated in particular at airports and border posts. The ID photos of the wanted agents were seized by DIGOS officers at the 23 Italian hotels that the agents stayed in during three-months of preparation for the week-long abduction operation. The three women and ten men used their American passports to register at the hotels, many of which kept photocopies of the documents. Some of the photocopies are a little dark, hence the request to forensic scientists to make all thirteen faces identifiable.


CIA procedure does not necessarily involve advising the local U.S. Embassy of covert operations. According to the arrest warrants, in the case of the Abu Omar abduction the problem was that the abduction was coordinated by Robert Lady, who was the CIA station chief working under cover as "Consul of the United States in Milan."

In this already delicate situation, police discovered that the cell phone used by Harty Benamar, one of the agents that carried out the abduction, was reactivated a year and a half later. [The abduction is said to have taken place on February 17, 2003].

The new user was an American citizen, S.L., who changed the number with a new SIM card but kept the cell phone, which can be identified by its IMEI code. The initial investigation found that the new user was working for the American diplomatic service in Rome. In addition to this, during normal business hours the cell phone always utilized the same base station, the TIM antenna in Viale Molise 4. This is the nearest base station to the American Embassy, which is only 100 meters away.

This seemingly incautious telephone reactivation convinced police that the cell phone was part of a batch supplied to the U.S. Embassy. Since some of the abductors were believed to have returned the phones to the Embassy after the operation, the reactivation of the phone used by S.L. confirmed police suspicions.

During the abduction, Bob Lady is known to have used a landline and cell phone belonging to the Milan consulate. In addition, the cell phone of "subscriber 16," another of the abductors, was used by one of the six as-yet-unidentified agents. This phone received a number of calls from two public phones in Rome. The pay phones are located in Via Veneto 2 and Via del Tritone 56, both very close to the U.S. Embassy. It is suspected that the pay phones were used to avoid direct contact between "subscriber 16" and U.S. diplomatic staff.


In the next few hours, Milan will issue a formal request to United States magistrates for judicial assistance. For the moment, the most important rogatory letters [letters seeking information] concern two telephones in Virginia, the CIA's home state, which were contacted four times each by the operating unit chief just after the abduction. The calls may have been to report that the mission had been accomplished. Magistrates have already drafted a request to question as a suspect the former commander of the 31st Fighter Wing, Colonel Joseph Romano, who received three calls from the same cell phone just before the hostage arrived at the U.S. Airbase in Aviano. Today, Romano is a high-ranking Pentagon officer and, according to investigating magistrates, one of the few people who know the true identity of Agent X, the operative in charge of the abductors.

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