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Abu Omar case heats up

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By See-Dubya  •  January 9, 2007 04:28 PM

If you haven’t followed the Abu Omar case, you might want to brush up. In a nutshell, right before the Iraq war started, CIA agents allegedly kidnapped an Egyptian Imam, Abu Omar, from the streets of Milan and shipped him off to Egypt. Since then, AO has claimed he was tortured there. What’s more, Italy claims to have traced the identities of 26 Americans–all but one of them, according to the Washington Post, CIA agents–and charged them with kidnapping.

Even pro-American Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi wasn’t willing to let this one go. (Would you, if the Italian government yanked someone off a street in Chicago? Especially if the FBI was investigating him at the time?) But his replacement, former EU hotshot (and “spare Saddam!” finger-wagger) Romano Prodi is not at all inclined to do so, and it’s probably going to remain a big public hoo-hah. Now one of the accused Americans has withdrawn his lawyer from the case, asserting that the matter ought to have a political solution rather than a legal one.

With Prodi in charge, I’m not optimistic that a political solution is possible, and the Italian prosecutors aren’t for turning. It’s a delicate situation, and it will call for some pretty skillful diplomacy and lawyering to resolve it.

Now: there is some important background missing from the Washington Post story and prior coverage. Why was this guy so important that the CIA would risk a kidnapping–and a major political upset–on allied soil?

The answer that emerged when the case first came to light is that he was suspected of using his pulpit in Milan to recruit terrorists for the Iraq war, before it ever started. This is from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on June 25, 2005 (now only on Lexis-Nexis):

Italian authorities suspected Abu Omar of helping to build a terrorist network in Europe, of recruiting volunteers to fight in Iraq on the eve of the U.S. invasion and of possibly plotting a bombing. He was a veteran of wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan and was using his pulpit in Milan to raise money for the jihadist cause, Italian officials said, citing information from wiretaps, including one at a mosque where he preached.

There are many interesting aspects to this case, and I find it revealing that the mainstream media continues to focus exclusively on the questions of torture and rendition. Those are all legitimate and important questions. But what I haven’t seen in amidst all the hand-wringing, and what I would very much like to see, is a close look at “Egyptian terror suspect” Abu Omar himself, and why he was so important to the CIA. If nothing else, it’s important for understanding why the CIA decided to take this risk.

Not to mention that the possibility of a radical Islamist cleric arranging to supply insurgent manpower for the secular Baathist resistance under Saddam–in short, another likely Saddam-terrorist connection–is an intriguing one.

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