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The CIA and Albanian intelligence recruit an informer knowledgeable about al-Qaeda in the Balkans. The informer, whose name is Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, but is known as Abu Omar, is recruited by a special unit of the Albanian National Intelligence Service (ShIK) created at the behest of the CIA. An officer in the unit, Astrit Nasufi, will say that the unit is actually run by a CIA agent known as “Mike” who is based on the US embassy in Tirana, Albania, and who teaches them intelligence techniques. The CIA and ShIK are worried about a possible assassination attempt against the Egyptian foreign minister, who is to visit Albania soon, so about twelve radical Egyptians, members of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad, are detained beforehand. Nasr is not on the list, but is detained because of a link to a suspect charity, the Human Relief and Construction Agency (HRCA). He is held for about 10 days and, although he initially refuses to talk, ShIK has a “full file” on him after a week. He provides information about around ten fellow Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members working for HRCA and two other charities, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society, both of which will be declared designated supporters of terrorism after 9/11. However, he says there are no plans to kill the Egyptian foreign minister, as this would mean Albania would no longer be a safe haven for fundamentalist Muslims. The intelligence Nasr goes on to provide is regarded as good quality and includes the identities of operatives monitoring the US embassy and entering and leaving Albania. The CIA is most interested in monitoring former mujaheddin joining the Bosnian Muslims, and Nasr also provides intelligence on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya branches in Britain, Germany, and Italy, in particular the Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, which is a base for mujaheddin operations in the Balkans and is raided by the Italian government around this time (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995). Even though cooperation appears to be good, after a few weeks Nasr suddenly disappears and the CIA tells ShIK that Nasr has moved to Germany. (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005) Nasr will later surface in Italy and will become close to Islamic militants in Milan (see Summer 2000), but will be kidnapped by the CIA after 9/11 (see Noon February 17, 2003).
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), a member of the Egyptian terrorist organization Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya who previously informed for the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), arrives in Italy and settles in Rome. He obtains asylum in Italy and serves as an imam near the Italian capital for a few years. He will later move to Milan at the same time a key al-Qaeda operative moves there (see Summer 2000). (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005; Vidino 2006, pp. 242)
Italian resident Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA on extremists in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and May 1997-2000), moves from Rome to Milan to live with a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000 and Summer 2000). Al-Zawahiri’s associate, Mahmoud Es Sayed, and Nasr arrive in Milan at the same time, and it appears their movements are coordinated. Nasr actually lives in Es Sayed’s apartment and the pair make use of two radical mosques in Milan, the Via Quaranta mosque, which is their headquarters, and the Islamic Cultural Institute (ICI), which is associated with a cell of radical Islamists that works with al-Qaeda and appears to have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000 and March 2001). The ICI has a reputation as the most radical Islamic center in Italy, was a key supply point for Muslims fighting in Bosnia (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995), and was connected to the first World Trade Center bombing (see Late 1993-1994). Nasr serves as deputy imam at the ICI and preaches anti-US sermons. Italian law enforcement authorities monitor him with bugs in his apartment and through a tap on his phone, finding out that after 9/11 he recruits Muslims to go and fight in Afghanistan. He does not seem to be directly involved in serious illegal activity, but the information the Italians gain helps them monitor other radicals. His relationship with the CIA during his time in Italy is unclear, but in one monitored call after 9/11 he appears to be dissuading another radical from attacking Jews and in another he tells an associate not to carry out a car bombing. (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005; Vidino 2006, pp. 242) The CIA will kidnap Nasr in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003).
Italian authorities monitoring a cell of Islamist extremists based in Milan, Italy, overhear one of the radicals plotting to create a new trans-European network. The surveillance target, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who previously informed for the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), tells an unidentified man that they will use the network to “eliminate the enemies of God.” News of the network, which is to be based in Britain, causes the Italians to place Nasr under round the clock surveillance. (Vidino 2006, pp. 236-41) Nasr will subsequently be kidnapped by the CIA (see Noon February 17, 2003).
An 11-member team of CIA agents arrives in Milan in preparation for the abduction of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). The team will remain in Milan until mid-February 2003, leaving shortly after Nasr’s successful kidnap (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to Luciano Pironi, an Italian who helps the CIA with the abduction, the team makes over a dozen unsuccessful attempts before actually taking Nasr; during the false starts they are called off due to unexpected pedestrians or police cars near the planned kidnap site. As the CIA officers’ stay in Milan drags on, discipline on the abduction team breaks down. Two agents use their cell phones to call home; these calls will later be discovered by Italian prosecutors. At least two others take rooms at two of Milan’s more upmarket hotels, the Sheraton Diana Majestic and the Principe di Savoia, for what GQ magazine will call “romantic encounters,” paid for by the agency. One team member, apparently a freelance contractor, uses his real name when checking in to hotels. In addition, the team does not use the walkie-talkies they have been given, because, according to a senior CIA official, they make them “look too much like spies.” Instead, they use their cell phones, which Italian prosecutors will later trace easily. This aspect of the operation will be severely criticised; former CIA officer Milt Bearden will say, “This was amateur hour with a bunch of Keystone Kops.” A senior CIA official who approved the plan will say, “They were told to stop using their phones and stop calling home, but they did it anyway.” He will add that the responsibility for the errors should be laid at the door of the chief of the CIA’s Rome station, Jeff Castelli, who is in charge and whose “brainchild” the operation reportedly was (see Before February 17, 2003). According to the official, Castelli is good, but does not pay attention to details, and fails to inform CIA headquarters about the sloppiness with the cell phones. (Cole 3/2007 )
The Italian military intelligence agency SISMI is briefed by the CIA on a plan to kidnap radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) in Milan (see Noon February 17, 2003). SISMI agrees to the plan, but it appears other Italian agencies are not informed of it. The CIA will later claim the plan is even approved by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, although documentation to support this will not be produced. When Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who are monitoring Nasr and planning to arrest him, find he has been kidnapped, they will charge several CIA officers with breaking Italian law (see June 23, 2005 and After). (Whitlock 12/6/2005)
The CIA kidnaps an Islamic extremist who previously informed for it in Milan, Italy. The man, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), who was a member of the Egyptian terror group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was close to al-Qaeda, provided information to the CIA in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After) and operated in Italy (see Summer 2000). (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005) While the kidnap is happening, one of the CIA officers involved in the operation, Robert Seldon Lady, is having a meeting on the other side of Milan with Bruno Megale, head of Milan’s antiterrorism police service, DIGOS. The meeting’s purpose is to allow Lady to keep an eye on Megale in case something goes wrong. (Cole 3/2007 ) The US will say that Nasr is a dangerous terrorist and that he once plotted to assassinate the Egyptian foreign minister. However, Italian officials, who were monitoring him, will deny this and say his abduction damages an intelligence operation against al-Qaeda. A senior prosecutor will say, “When Nasr disappeared in February , our investigation came to a standstill.” Italian authorities are mystified by the kidnap, as they are sharing the results of their surveillance with the CIA. Nor can they understand why Egypt wants Nasr back. When Nasr reaches Cairo, he is taken to the Egyptian interior minister and told that if he agrees to inform again, he will be set free. However, he refuses and spends most of the next 14 months in prison, facing “terrible tortures.” The Chicago Tribune will ask, “Why would the US government go to elaborate lengths to seize a 39-year-old Egyptian who, according to former Albanian intelligence officials, was once the CIA’s most productive source of information within the tightly knit group of Islamic fundamentalists living in exile in Albania?” One possible answer is that he is kidnapped in an attempt to turn him back into the informer he once was. The kidnapping generates a substantial amount of publicity, leading to an investigation of the CIA’s practice of extraordinary rendition, and an Italian official will comment, “Instead of having an investigation against terrorists, we are investigating this CIA kidnapping.” (Crewdson and Hundley 7/2/2005) Arrest warrants will later be issued for some US intelligence officers involved in the kidnapping (see June 23, 2005 and After).
A group of CIA officers arrives at Aviano Air Force Base, north of Venice, Italy, with Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), an Islamist extremist they kidnapped in Milan five hours previously (see Noon February 17, 2003). Some English-speaking interrogators strip Omar’s clothes, putting him in blue overalls, and photograph him. They ask him some questions about his connections to al-Qaeda, his sending of recruits to fight in Iraq, and his relationship with Islamist radicals in Albania (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After). However, Nasr says nothing. The interrogators punch him in the stomach and slap him across the face. Then they wrap his head in a sticky bandage, cut some breathing holes into it, and put him on a plane that arrives in Cairo seven hours later. (Cole 3/2007 ) Twenty-six US officials will later be charged in Italy with the kidnap. One of them is Joseph Romano, a US Air Force officer whose role is to help the kidnappers at the air base in Aviano. (Stein 9/23/2009)
Robert Seldon Lady, chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, Italy, travels to Egypt for three weeks. A radical imam named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan five days before and taken to Egypt, and Lady will later be accused of being a party to the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). According to the Washington Post, “many counterterrorism analysts take [Lady’s trip to Egypt] to mean he took part in the initial interrogation.” A search of Lady’s villa will later turn up computer disks showing a flight reservation from Zurich to Cairo and cell phone records will show that a phone associated with Lady was used to place calls from Cairo during the period Lady is thought to be there. Nasr will later say he is tortured when in Egypt (see April-May 2004). (Whitlock 12/6/2005)
The CIA assists with the interrogation in Egypt of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist extremist the agency recently rendered from Italy (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr is questioned at a Cairo prison by three agents of the Egyptian Mukhabarat, who repeatedly ask him about his recruiting network and which members of the Islamist organization Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya are working with him. Several CIA officers, presumably including Robert Seldon Lady (see February 22-March 15, 2003), watch Nasr stonewall the questions on a video monitor in a nearby room. The officers, who know intimate family details about Nasr’s life due to a bug in his house, give the Egyptians a fabricated message that Nasr is to be told is from his son. Upon hearing the message, Nasr breaks down and cries. He then tells his interrogators everything he knows, including who is involved in his recruiting efforts in Milan and which Egyptians have helped hide his money transfers. Having gotten the information they wanted, the CIA agents leave and the Egyptians begin torturing Nasr (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After). (Cole 3/2007 )
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Islamist extremist recently rendered from Italy to Egypt by the CIA (see Noon February 17, 2003), is tortured there. Nasr was interrogated for information by the local authorities with the agency’s help shortly after his arrival in Egypt and gave up what information he had (see (Late February 2003)). The torture techniques include:
Being hung upside down;
Exposure to extreme heat and cold;
Extremely loud music played for hours;
Denial of bathing; and
A device called the mattress, where the victim is tied to a wet mattress, his shoulders are pinned to it by one of the torturers, and electricity is fired through the mattress coils.
A former CIA official will comment on the rationale behind the Egyptians torturing someone who has already provided information: “They’re a good intel service. They use sedatives and psychological manipulation to get someone to talk. If they’re mad or you’re of no use—that’s when they get mean.” (Cole 3/2007 )
The CIA tells anti-terrorist authorities in Italy that it has reliable information that Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), a radical Islamist cleric who was under joint Italian-CIA surveillance in Milan until recently, is in Bosnia. This is a deliberate lie; the CIA knows Nasr is in Egypt, as it recently kidnapped him and took him there, handing him over to Egyptian authorities (see Noon February 17, 2003). According to the Washington Post, the purpose of the lie is “to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric….” The Italians believe the CIA’s story for more than a year, but subsequently discover the CIA was involved in his kidnapping. (Whitlock 12/6/2005)
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is temporarily released in Egypt, where he was taken by the CIA after being abducted (see Noon February 17, 2003). He makes a series of phone calls to family members and acquaintances in Milan, Italy, saying he was kidnapped, taken by English- and Italian-speaking men, put on a plane with a US flag on it, and held in prison for a year, but is now under house arrest. In one of the calls, Nasr tells his wife: “I was very close to dying. But I don’t think about death anymore.… I am deeply saddened because I wasn’t able to do what I had planned to do in Italy.” He says that he has been tortured—subjected to freezing temperatures and electric shocks, among other forms of abuse (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After). He also warns religious colleagues at the Islamic Cultural Center in Milan that his Egyptian interrogators want to abduct another three people. He is soon rearrested by the Egyptian authorities because of the calls. The calls are recorded by Italian investigators, who have had him under surveillance for some time. (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Cole 3/2007 ) Armando Spataro, an Italian prosecutor who had previously worked with the CIA on surveillance of Nasr in Milan, learns of the calls. As the CIA’s practice of rendition is well known, he is unsurprised the agency had played a role in the operation, and also feels Italian intelligence may have been involved. However, the first call the Italians intercept from Nasr in Egypt causes them to try to determine the exact circumstances of the kidnap. According to GQ magazine, Spataro considers the rendition a “national embarrassment” and a “clear violation of Italian sovereignty and law.” (Cole 3/2007 ) Nasr will be released again in 2007 (see February 11, 2007).
Italian anti-terrorist authorities issue a warrant for the arrest of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), a radical imam previously active in Milan who was kidnapped by the CIA (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, who was under investigation as a suspected terrorist before he was abducted, is in custody in Egypt, where the CIA took him. He is not handed over to the Italians at this time or when released by Egyptian authorities (see February 11, 2007), as Italy and Egypt do not have an extradition treaty. (Nasrawi 2/12/2007)
Italian authorities issue arrest warrants for nine Italians and 26 Americans, including former CIA Milan substation chief Robert Seldon Lady, over the kidnapping of an Islamic extremist in Italy (see Noon February 17, 2003) (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Barry 1/26/2007; CNN 2/16/2007) The kidnapped person, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and Summer 2000), but was held hostage at two US airbases, Aviano in Italy and Ramstein in Germany, and then reportedly tortured in Egypt. This is the first time a foreign government files criminal charges against the CIA for an overseas counterterrorism mission. The Washington Post will comment, “Coming from a longtime ally, Italy, which has worked closely with the US government to fight terrorism and has sent troops to Iraq, the charges reflect growing unease in Europe about some US tactics against suspected Islamic terrorists.” The 13 are not in Italy to be arrested and many appear to have been using fake names. Court documents show they spent over $100,000 staying in luxury hotels in Milan, Florence, and Venice before and after the kidnapping. Nasr is released temporarily after being held for about a year, and Italian authorities monitor a call in which he says he has been tortured with electric shocks in Egypt. The operation is so badly planned and executed that former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer has difficultly believing the CIA could have done it, saying, “The agency might be sloppy, but not that sloppy.” (Whitlock and Linzer 6/24/2005)
The Italian government says it will not ask for the extradition of 22 CIA officers sought by Italian prosecutors in connection with the kidnapping of radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar, see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). Approving such a request is “usually a formality” according to the Washington Post, but the decision is delayed for months and then finally made by Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli immediately after the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi loses elections, but before it is replaced by a new government. The New York Times comments, “As minister of justice under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—one of the Bush administration’s most loyal supporters in Europe—Mr. Castelli’s refusal to move forward with the extradition comes as no surprise.” Prosecutor Armando Spataro says that the request will be resubmitted to the new Italian government, and the CIA officers may be tried in absentia. (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Kiefer 4/12/2006) The request is resubmitted, but by the time the CIA officers are committed for trial in 2007, the new government will not have passed it on to the US (see February 11, 2007). (CNN 2/16/2007)
Italian authorities investigating the kidnapping of radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) seize half of a villa belonging to Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA substation chief involved in the abduction (see Noon February 17, 2003 and February 22-March 15, 2003). The half of the villa that belongs to Lady (the other half belongs to his wife) is to be held until the end of Lady’s trial for the kidnapping (see February 16, 2007). If Lady is convicted, it will be sold to pay for court costs and possibly damages. (Barry 1/26/2007)
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is released in Egypt. He was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan, Italy, in 2003 and taken to Egypt, where he was imprisoned. This sparked a confrontation between the CIA and Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who had been investigating him before he was kidnapped (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, who filed an action for unlawful detention against Egypt’s Interior Ministry, is released in Alexandria after a State Security Court declares his detention “unfounded.” Nasr will apparently remain in Egypt and not return to Italy, where a warrant for his arrest was issued on terrorism counts (see April 2005). (Nasrawi 2/12/2007)
An Italian judge rules that there is enough evidence to try thirty-five people in the affair of kidnapped imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). Nasr was kidnapped by the CIA, with the knowledge of the Italian military intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), in Milan in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, a former CIA asset (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), was then taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured (see April-May 2004). The 26 Americans that are indicted can be tried in absentia in Italy and include Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, the former CIA station chief in Rome, and an officer from the US air base in Aviano, near Venice. The nine Italians include former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, but three of them are only charged with complicity in the kidnapping, not the kidnapping itself. However, none of the Americans are in Italy at this time, and Italy has not asked for them to be extradited. (Barry 1/26/2007; CNN 2/16/2007)
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