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Wednesday, May 10, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Terror suspect beaten, lawyer says

Knight Ridder Newspapers

CAIRO, Egypt — A militant Egyptian cleric who allegedly was abducted from an Italian street by CIA officers and turned over to Egypt in 2003 said he was beaten repeatedly in the early stages of his imprisonment, including while he was in U.S. custody.

Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, who is also known as Abu Omar, met with his attorney for the first time between mid-March and late April at Tura prison just south of Cairo, his lawyer, Montasser Zayat, said Tuesday. Nasr, who is being held without charge in solitary confinement, was seized three years ago.

Nasr aroused Italian authorities' suspicion by handing out anti-American pamphlets and preaching jihad, or holy war, at a mosque in Milan. Italian police had placed him under surveillance and had tapped his phone when he disappeared Feb. 17, 2003.

The kidnapping strained relations between the United States and Italy, where authorities have charged 22 Americans with the abduction — including the former head of the CIA base in Milan. Italian authorities have denied they knew of the abduction beforehand, but former CIA officers have voiced skepticism, noting that the Americans appeared to have made no efforts to disguise their identities and used their real names, passports and personal cellphones while allegedly conducting the operation.

Nasr has become one of the few public faces of the Bush administration's controversial practice of "extraordinary rendition," in which American agents snatch terror suspects abroad and ship them to other countries for interrogation. Human-rights advocates charge that the suspects are often sent to countries that practice torture.

Egypt, a U.S. ally with a long record of human-rights violations, has been one of the top destinations for such cases, human-rights organizations say.

Nasr's access to his attorney may indicate renewed Italian interest in pursuing charges against the 22 Americans. In the past few weeks, Egyptian authorities began questioning Nasr about his abduction at an Italian judge's request, said Zayat and Nasr's relatives, who were interviewed separately.

Neither Egyptian nor Italian authorities would confirm the new round of interrogations, the attorney visits or any other development in the case.

Zayat said his client told him he was walking to noon prayers at the mosque when the CIA agents ambushed him, subdued him by spraying chemicals in his face and took him by plane to a U.S. base in Germany. Zayat said his client was stripped and beaten during the night he spent in U.S. custody before he was turned over to Egyptian officials the next day.

"He's been exposed to torture ever since he was kidnapped in Italy," Zayat said. "He said he was beaten even on the plane that took him to Germany before he was handed to Egypt."

Zayat said Nasr told him that Egyptian security guards stripped him to his underwear, blindfolded him and bound his arms during interrogation sessions in his first few weeks of detention. Nasr was released in April 2004 and called his wife and other associates in Milan. Italian authorities still had wiretaps on his wife's phone and have said that's how they learned he was in Egypt.

Egyptian security officials were incensed that Nasr told his family and friends about the interrogations, Zayat said, so they imprisoned him again in May 2004, just weeks after his release. He has been in custody ever since.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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