Italy: Renditions: Judge notifies defendants of the state of play in investigations into Abu Omar rendition: High-level SISMI and CIA officials involved

On 6 October 2006, investigating magistrate Armando Spataro of the Milan tribunal issued a notification of the legal proceedings that are underway against 39 people in relation to the kidnapping of the Egyptian national Nasar Osama Mustafa Hassan (aka Abu Omar) in Milan on 17 February 2003, an "extraordinary rendition" involving agents and high-level officials from both the CIA and SISMI, the Italian military intelligence service.

Thirty-five of the people who are under investigation are suspected of direct involvement in the kidnapping, either in its preparatory stages or in its execution, including 26 nationals of the US who are fugitives from Italian justice at present, and have had international arrest warrants issued against them. Spataro's notification accuses them of:

"depriving [Abu Omar] of his personal freedom, kidnapping him, … immobilising him using force and forcing him to get into a van, thus transporting him, first to the US airbase in Aviano, seat of the 31st Fighter Wing of the US Air Force, and subsequently to Egypt".

Investigations into the kidnapping are ongoing. The charges against four of the accused, who are set to face trial as Spataro's notification informs them that investigations into their activities have ended, relate to efforts by SISMI to carry out surveillance of the activities of magistrates investigating this operation, and to mislead them, through the use of journalists who were recruited by SISMI - in spite of the recruitment of journalists by intelligence services being forbidden by Italian law.

Six CIA officers are accused of involvement in the preparatory stages of the operation (coordination, surveillance of Abu Omar's habits, planning of the operation). A further 15 are accused of involvement in both the preparatory stages and execution of the kidnapping and transfer to Aviano. Romano Joseph, a high-level official responsible for security in Aviano airbase, is accused of waiting for the kidnappers in the airbase, guaranteeing them safe entry and allowing them to load Abu Omar onto an aircraft taking him out of Italy.

The most serious charges are levelled at Jeff Castelli (head of the CIA in Italy), Robert Seldon Lady (head of the CIA in Milan), Sabrina de Sousa and Ralph Russomando. They are all from the network of the CIA in Italy, and are deemed responsible for agreeing and coordinating the operation, securing support from SISMI and, in the case of Russomando, of providing false information to investigating authorities concerning the whereabouts of Abu Omar following the kidnapping.

The nine Italians who are suspected of involvement in the rendition are from the highest echelons of SISMI:

SISMI director Nicolò Pollari is accused of receiving and accepting the request from the CIA to participate in the operation, as well as bearing responsibility for the role played by members of SISMI in the operation.

Marco Mancini (see Statewatch news online, July 2006), in charge of SISMI centres in northern Italy, and Gustavo Pignero (who is not in the list of people liable to face charges as he died on 11 September 2006) are accused of securing the cooperation in the preparation of the abduction of other SISMI officers and people linked to SISMI, including officers from several SISMI offices in northern Italy (Lorenzo Pillinini, director of the SISMI centre in Trieste , Marco Iodice, director of the SISMI centre in Padua, Maurizio Regondi, described as the de facto director of the SISMI centre in Milan, of which Mancini was officially the director, Giuseppe Ciorra, an officer from the Milan SISMI centre, Raffaele Di Troia, from the SISMI centre in Turin and Luciano Di Gregori, from the SISMI centre in Milan). Between them, they were allegedly involved in the decision to carry out the kidnapping, studied the habits of Abu Omar, and planned a route to smuggle him out of the country through Brescia airport (although the US airbase in Aviano was finally used). The last Italian who is directly linked to the kidnapping is Luciano Pironi, a carabinieri (police force with military status) officer from the Milan ROS (special operations unit) who was physically involved in the kidnapping, to which he contributed by stopping Abu Omar, requiring him to identify himself, just before a team of men jumped out of a van to abduct him (see Statewatch news online, May 2006). He was recruited for the operation by CIA agent Robert Seldon Lady.

The aggravating circumstances for the charges that the defendants are set to face include the fact that over five persons were involved in the operation, and that they abused their powers in a position of public authority. Pollari and Castelli face the further aggravating circumstance of having organised and directed the activities of all the other co-defendants.

The last four people who are facing charges in relation to the kidnapping are two SISMI officers, Pio Pompa and Luciano Seno, and two journalists from Libero newspaper, Renato Farina and Claudio Antonelli. They are charged of helping people (Mancini and Pignero) involved in the Abu Omar rendition in their attempts to elude the investigative activities by the judicial authority. In particular, Pompa is charged of tasking Farina (recruited by SISMI as a regular informer) to contact the Milan prosecuting magistrates investigating the case, by pretending to have a purely journalistic interest in the case, in order to put questions to him that he was provided by Pompa himself to ascertain the degree of knowledge that magistrates had about the involvement of SISMI in the operation. Moreover, Farina, again under instructions from Pompa, also provided misleading information to magistrates by suggesting that prosecuting magistrate Stefano Dambruoso and the Milan Digos (the national police special operations unit) were involved in the operation. Pompa also passed on "information" to journalists in support of this fabricated hypothesis. Farina and Antonelli met Spataro on 22 May 2006, and sent a report to Pompa about what was said in the meeting. They also sought to illegally acquire information in the Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan (seat of the judiciary in Milan) about the progress that was being made in the investigation, which they passed on to Pompa, and they also gave Pompa details of the movements of the prosecuting magistrate, and of the meetings that he was having with third parties during the investigation, in particular those held in Milan on 21 May 2006. The charges against Luciano Seno are for helping Pignero, Mancini and other unknown SISMI officers to elude investigations by allowing them to use his mobile phone (which they assumed not to be under surveillance) to exchange information concerning the investigations by the Milan judicial authorities and to agree versions aimed at misleading them, and to induce potential witnesses called to testify by investigators to lie. Moreover, he is accused of setting up a meeting between Pignero and Mancini on 2 June 2006 (the day after Pignero had testified before judicial authorities) in order to allow them to talk directly without being discovered.

Source

Procura della Repubblica presso il tribunale di Milano; Informazione di Garanzia e sul Diritto di Difesa, art. 369 e 369 bis c.p.p.; Avviso di Conclusione delle Indagini, art. 415 bis c.p.p.; Milan, 6 October 2006, doc. N.10838 05 R.G.N.R. mod.21 (full-text, pdf, in Italian)

Previous Statewatch coverage

Extraordinary renditions: Italy: Collusion by Italian personnel in CIA kidnapping, May 2006, .

Italy: Extraordinary renditions: Military intelligence officials arrested for collusion in Abu Omar kidnapping, July 2006,

See also: Statewatch Observatory on renditions


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