[Ppnews] CIA Kidnapping Leaves Abu Omar a Broken Man

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Mar 21 11:33:45 EDT 2007


Der Spiegel

March 19, 2007


CIA Kidnapping Leaves Ex-Terror Suspect a Broken Man

By <mailto:matthias_gebauer at spiegel.de>Matthias Gebauer in Alexandria, Egypt

Radical imam Abu Omar was kidnapped by the CIA in 
Milan four years ago and taken to a prison in 
Egypt. There, he was tormented with electric 
shocks and suspended from the ceiling for days on 
end. Now Omar describes his ordeal and the role Germany played in the scandal.

Osama Hussein Nasr comes downstairs to show the 
way to his house in Alexandria, which is 
difficult to find amidst the chaos of narrow 
alleys with their open sewers. Suddenly he's 
standing there, in front of a small café -- a 
diminutive man with a long, scruffy beard and a 
round white cap on his head. After a brief 
handshake, the man better known as Abu Omar urges 
us to follow him back upstairs. It's better to 
talk there, he says: "They're everywhere down 
here on the street, the security people."

Abu Omar isn't allowed to receive visits from 
Western journalists. He says his "friends" -- the 
Egyptian authorities -- have "strongly advised" 
him to observe this prohibition. Abu Omar is 
nervous. The 46-year-old was released from jail 
on Feb. 11 and has been free, at least 
officially, ever since. The authorities have 
dropped all charges against him. Nevertheless, he 
is violating his orders by meeting with us. "I 
have two options," he says. "Either I can keep 
quiet, do what I'm told and live a quiet life -- 
or I can tell my story to the world and risk running into a lot of problems."

He keeps looking over his shoulder throughout the 
few meters it takes to get to his decrepit 
apartment house in a side alley. He has to watch 
his back: The men lurking behind hookahs, the 
street vendors, the men loitering around -- any 
one of them could be a policeman. "I'm under 
surveillance around the clock," Abu Omar says. 
"To them, I'm a walking risk factor." But his 
decision, preceded by lengthy negotiations with 
his lawyer in Cairo, now stands. Abu Omar wants 
to talk -- "no matter what the consequences for 
me will be." As his lawyer puts it: The world must be told "the truth."

Abu Omar's story is at the center of one of the 
most dubious CIA operations to be conducted since 
the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. On Feb. 17, 
2003, agents employed by the US foreign 
intelligence agency kidnapped the radical imam 
right off the street in the center of the Italian 
city of Milan. The imam was certainly no docile 
pacifist: For years he had preached messages of 
hate against the United States to fundamentalist 
Muslims in Milan. He fought in Afghanistan 
himself, and he's said to have encouraged young 
recruits of jihad to do the same. To the 
Italians, Abu Omar was one of the big fish, and 
his arrest was imminent. But for the CIA he was a 
target, and the US terrorist hunters didn't want 
to wait for the rule of law to complete its 
course. They wanted men like Omar to be taken out 
of circulation as quickly and quietly as possible.

Omar's kidnappers flew him to Cairo, back to his 
home country, using one of the CIA's Learjets -- 
planes that have since become notorious for their 
role in clandestinely shuttling suspected 
terrorists through Europe on their way to third 
countries that often permitted torture to extract 
confessions and information. The plan was for the 
Egyptian intelligence agency's unscrupulous 
interrogators to extract as much information out of Omar as possible.

The trail of a government kidnapping

Egypt complied with its ally's request. If what 
Abu Omar says is true, what began for him on the 
other side of the Mediterranean was an experience 
of martyrdom reminiscent of the darkest days of 
Latin American dictatorships: Omar's torturers, 
whom he describes as "vassals of the United 
States," connected electrodes to his genitalia to 
make him talk. They almost drove him insane by 
playing loud music. He says he still can't 
control his bladder today. As evidence, he 
reveals small black spots on his skin, burns from the electric shocks.

The investigators didn't extract any useful 
information from Abu Omar -- and instead the 
operation became a disaster for the CIA. There is 
not a single case of the agency's kidnappings -- 
known as "renditions" in the jargon of its 
employees -- that is better documented than that 
of Abu Omar. After finding the passports of the 
agents involved as well as their enormous 
restaurant expense claims, and tracing their 
phones calls, the Milan prosecutor ultimately 
moved to file charges against the kidnappers. The 
main trial proceedings are set to start in June. 
And even if the 26 CIA agents charged in the case 
don't appear in the dock, the trial is still 
expected to be a highly uncomfortable affair for 
many parties. That includes the Italian 
government, which is seeking to put the brakes on 
the trial using the country's highest court.

Abu Omar breathes heavily at the top of the four 
flights of stairs to his three-room apartment, 
like an old man. As soon as he's inside, he 
immediately bolts the door and pulls the curtains 
shut. Groaning, he drops onto one of the simple, 
gold-dyed armchairs in the tiny living room, 
illuminated by the cold light from a neon tube on 
the ceiling. "I feel like an old man," the 
46-year-old says. "Every movement hurts my back, 
and my joints are still sore from being 
constantly restrained in prison." His release 
from jail may have been a "gift from God," but 
his life has been left in ruins and it is 
unlikely he will ever be able to put it back together, he says.

Indeed, there's not much left of the man Italian 
intelligence dossiers describe as a 
fundamentalist Muslim agitator and a fiery 
advocate of jihad. Abu Omar sits in the cramped, 
corridor-like apartment with his veiled wife 
Nabila and his son Mohammed. His brother pays the 
rent. Egypt has banned Abu Omar from preaching in 
the country, but it's the only profession he 
knows. "My only diversion is the walk to a little 
mosque. Apart from that, I just sit here all day," he says.

"I knew right away that something was wrong"

Images from Italy are flashing on the small TV 
set -- another report on the trial against the 
CIA's terrorist hunters. Abu Omar begins telling 
his story. He can remember the late morning of 
Feb. 17, 2003 well. It seemed like it would be a 
day just like any other. He was on the way to his 
mosque, located just a few minutes from his 
apartment. Suddenly a man in a red Fiat spoke to 
him. The man said he was from the police and 
asked for his papers. "I knew right away that 
something was wrong, but it all happened very, 
very quickly," Abu Omar says. The operation had began.

A moment after he had been asked to present his 
papers, Abu Omar felt the hands of two brawny men 
on his body. "They grabbed me from behind and 
dragged me into a white delivery van, then beat 
me," he recalls. "I thought they were going to 
kill me." He says he only got a quick glimpse of 
the "hulks," as he calls them. He says they 
quickly pulled a hat over his head and tied his 
hands with plastic cuffs. Abu Omar lay gasping in 
the van's cargo bay as it sped off, tires 
squeaking, in the direction of the US air base at 
Aviano, about two hours from Milan by car.

"It was a sunny midday on Feb. 17, 2003. I was on 
the way from my apartment to the mosque, which 
was only about a kilometer (0.6 miles) away. 
There was nothing unusual to be seen. I walked 
through Via Guerzoni as usual, past small stores. 
The only thing that attracted my attention was a 
white delivery van by the side of the road, which 
I had never seen there before. My wife and I had 
already suspected for some time that we were 
under surveillance. Cars kept following us, or at 
least we thought so. Also, the phone often rang 
at home and in the mosque, and no one could be 
heard on the other line when we replied. We 
assumed the Italian intelligence agency was 
observing us because I often ranted against the 
Americans and the imminent war against Iraq." 
Robert Seldon Lady is the former bureau chief of 
the CIA in Milan. He wanted to retire to Penango, 
after 24 years with the agency. But now he's 
roaming about instead. He was in Florida last, 
but he's said to already have moved on. His wife 
has left him. The only place where the former 
agent can feel truly safe is the United States, 
now that an Italian court has issued an arrest 
warrant for him - as it has done for 25 of his 
colleagues. <http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,472537,00.html>mehr...

When Abu Omar speaks, his voice fails. "I was 
completely at their mercy," he stutters. He only 
saw his kidnappers once, at the airport in 
Aviano. "They stood me on my feet, cut my clothes 
off and put a diaper on me," he remembers. "I saw 
eight men in beige military uniforms and face 
masks." Within the space of a second, a camera 
flashed, and then his head was wrapped in duct 
tape. He wouldn't be able to identify any of the 
men he saw. "They knew exactly what they were doing," he insists.

He had no inkling of where the men were taking 
him. He was dropped roughly onto the floor of an 
airplane that took off soon after. His hearing 
was impaired by a headset placed over his ears, 
but he could still sense in his stomach that he 
was in a plane. The kidnappers treated him like 
an animal, he alleges. "Their only concern was 
that I did not die," he says. Earlier, in the 
white mini-van, the men suddenly broke into a 
panic, afraid Abu Omar might die. "They shouted 
wildly, one even inspected my pupils," he says 
excitedly. Later, in the airplane, they kicked 
him when he spat out the water they funneled into his mouth.

"I would have told them anything"

When the airplane doors opened about eight hours 
later, Abu Omar felt the muggy heat and heard a 
muezzin announce the morning prayer somewhere in 
the distance. His feet restraints were loosened 
and he was led down the gangway, still 
blindfolded. "Someone called out to me in Arabic 
to come down," the imam remembers. "That was when 
I knew I must be back in Egypt." Still 
blindfolded, he was taken by car to the 
headquarters of the Egyptian intelligence agency in the center of Cairo.

Even today, Abu Omar still doesn't understood 
what the agents actually wanted from him. First 
they asked him whether he wanted to spy on 
fundamentalist Muslims in Milan for them. He 
refused repeatedly and was placed in solitary 
confinement. He was suspended from the wall with 
his hands restrained for several days. "I was 
interrogated, blindfolded, again and again. They 
kept asking who I knew and whether I knew 
anything about plans for terrorist operations," 
he said. But according to his own account, he 
didn't have any information to give, nor did he tell them anything.

Then came the electric shocks. Abu Omar is 
embarrassed to talk about them. He doesn't like 
having to recollect that he "begged for mercy 
because of the pain" when electrodes were 
attached to his genitals and other body parts. "I 
would have told them anything, but I didn't know 
what they wanted to hear," he says. Still the 
interrogators continued to torture him every few 
days until he lost consciousness. Once, he says, 
someone whispered to him that Egypt had nothing 
against him and that he was being held purely 
because of the United States. It would be better 
for him to cooperate, the person said, otherwise the torture would continue.

<>But Abu Omar was, in fact, a problem for Egypt. 
The authorities released him one year after the 
kidnapping -- on the condition that he speak 
neither about the kidnapping nor about his time 
in prison. But the imam immediately made phone 
calls to Italy, speaking to his wife and friends. 
The police, who had long wanted to find out more 
about Abu Omar's disappearance, had wiretapped 
the phone lines. Ultimately his brief release 
from jail turned out to be counterproductive for 
his captors, since the phone calls provided 
Italian legal authorities with proof that Abu Omar had in fact been kidnapped.

"Germany certainly shares responsibility"

It didn't take more than a few days before 
Egyptian police had hauled the imam back to jail. 
And though it may have been a normal jail this 
time, they still put him in solitary confinement. 
"The first thing they did was punish me because I 
had talked," Abu Omar says. Once again, he was 
tortured with electric shocks and loud music was 
played, preventing him from sleeping for days. 
But one thing changed: He was no longer 
interrogated. He says he was suddenly presented 
with offers such as being given $2 million and a 
US passport. Still, it's impossible to verify 
whether the claim is true -- a fact he is himself aware of.

The reasons for Abu Omar's release in February 
remain a mystery -- even to his attorney. Abu 
Omar's lawyer is devoting much of his time to 
pressing legal charges, despite the danger of Abu 
Omar being incarcerated again. A lawsuit against 
the CIA, which kidnapped his client, is certain. 
But the lawyer also found plenty of incriminating 
information against Italy in the case files. 
Italy's intelligence agency, the SISMI, seems to 
have known about the CIA's plans, at least on the 
operative level, and some of its employees seem 
to have been involved in the kidnapping. And so 
the lawyer is requesting no less than $20 million from Rome and Washington.

Abu Omar has found another guilty party. Abu Omar 
experienced his drama with blindfolded eyes, but 
the news he can explore on the Internet each day 
has helped shed light for him on a number of 
facts in the case. While surfing the Internet, he 
became aware of the US military base in Ramstein, 
Germany, where the plane that took him to Cairo 
made a brief stopover. "Germany certainly shares 
responsibility for what happened to me. After 
all, the German government allowed the CIA jet to 
land in Ramstein and then fly on," he says in a 
resolute voice. "All those who did nothing to 
prevent the CIA's activities abetted them."

Preparing for the next arrest

Abu Omar's lawyer is still in the process of 
making concrete plans about which steps to take 
next. For now, he wants to fly to Milan and 
inspect more of the trial records. Back home in 
Alexandria, Abu Omar is well aware that any 
statements he makes about his kidnapping could 
quickly land him back in jail. Egyptian 
authorities have little interest in further light 
being shed on the case -- nor does the Arab 
country, with its deep dependence on the United 
States, want to see any legal action against the 
CIA. "From their point of view, it would probably 
be best if I just disappeared somewhere," he says.

Of course, the imam knows that meeting with 
Western journalists and his critical statements 
on the Egyptian government could have serious consequences.

"Look here, next to the door," he says as his 
visitors are about to leave. "There's a little 
bag with a few clothes." His wife Nabila packed 
the dufflebag for the next trip to prison, he 
says. "Let me know before you publish the story," 
he calls after us as we walk down the staircase. 
"That way I can prepare for the visit from the police."

The Freedom Archives
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