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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006, 12:32 GMT
Italian spy shake-up amid probe
Ousted Sismi boss Nicolo Pollari
Nicolo Pollari and aides are under investigation
The Italian government has named an admiral to be the country's military intelligence chief, replacing a man allegedly linked to a CIA abduction.

Nicolo Pollari is among several Italian agents facing an inquiry into the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric by the US spy agency in 2003.

The Italian navy's fleet commander, Admiral Bruno Branciforte, will now head the Sismi secret service.

The heads of two other Italian intelligence bodies were also replaced.

Franco Gabrielli will head the Sisde civilian secret service and Giuseppe Cucchi will head the national intelligence coordinating committee Cesis.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, who took office in May, described it as a "natural rotation" of intelligence service chiefs.

Covert operation

Mr Pollari faced calls for his resignation after prosecutors alleged that he and other top Sismi officials worked with the Americans to abduct cleric Osama Mustafa Hassan, who says he was taken to Egypt and tortured.

Prosecutors say Mr Hassan was abducted from a Milan street on 17 February 2003, and flown out of the country from Aviano air base north of Venice.

The operation was allegedly part of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" programme for transferring terror suspects to third countries for interrogation.

The Italian government has said it had no prior knowledge of the kidnap plot. It has yet to respond to a request that it ask the US to extradite 26 US citizens named in the case.

Mr Pollari has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that Italian intelligence had no role in Mr Hassan's disappearance.

Mr Hassan is believed to have arrived in Italy in 1997, where he was granted refugee status.

Mr Pollari had earlier denied any role in passing bogus documents to the US claiming Saddam Hussein's Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

The claim was used by US President George Bush to help justify the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Italian daily La Repubblica had alleged that Sismi had circulated the Niger dossier, knowing it to be fake.

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