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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 May 2006, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Italy rejects cleric kidnap role
US airbase at Ramstein, Germany. File photo
Kidnapping been committed in Europe, MEPs said
Italy's outgoing government has reiterated that it had no knowledge of an alleged CIA operation to kidnap a Muslim cleric in Milan in 2003.

It comes after Italian newspapers said an Italian army officer had admitted taking part in the abduction of Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar.

The cleric says he was taken to Egypt for interrogation - part of a US policy known as "extraordinary rendition".

Italy denies criticism that it co-operated with the programme.

The new reports come days after Italy was singled out in an inquiry by the European Parliament.

It concluded that the CIA had run more than 1,000 flights within the European Union since 2001, often transporting terror suspects for questioning overseas.

'Media noise'

According to the new reports, a Special Operations Department (Ros) officer codenamed "Ludwig" - and identified by name by Italian newspaper Repubblica - was said to have stopped Abu Omar in Milan on 17 February 2003, moments before he was bundled into a car and driven away.

The officer was alleged to have been closely co-operating with the CIA.

There is no independent confirmation of the reports, which have been angrily dismissed by Silvio Berlusconi's outgoing government.

"The prime minister's office has nothing to add about the complete lack of involvement in the kidnapping by both the government and the information and security services," the government said a statement.

It described the accounts as a "media noise" being pursued on the issue "with relentless stubbornness".

The author of the European Parliament report, Claudio Fava, said many EU states had ignored hundreds of CIA flights that had used their airports.

Mr Fava, an Italian socialist MEP, also criticised Sweden and Bosnia , which is not an EU member.

The MEPs began a probe after claims the US flew suspects to secret prisons in European countries.

The US admits some terror suspects were flown overseas for interrogation, but denies sending them for torture.

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