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The Rendition of Abu Omar

John Foot writes in the London Review of Books:

On 17 February 2003, a 39-year-old Egyptian man was walking down a quiet street in suburban Milan on his way to daily prayers. His real name was Osama Nasr, but he was known as Abu Omar. He was a cleric and political militant, an opponent of the Mubarak regime, and had refugee status in Italy (which is very hard to get). A man in police uniform came up to him and asked in Italian to see his documents. As he reached for his passport, Omar was bundled into a white van and driven away at high speed. He was threatened, blindfolded, bound hand and foot, punched, forced onto the floor of the van, and taken to the US air base at Aviano near Brescia – about five hours’ drive away. The next day, he was put on a plane to Ramstein in Germany, where he boarded another plane, this time for Egypt. Journalists and Milanese magistrates investigating the case later discovered that Omar had been transferred to Cairo on a Gulfstream jet used for CIA operations.

Omar was taken to the Torah prison compound in Cairo, where he was tortured. He was stripped and placed in a room ‘so cold it felt that my bones would snap’, then moved to a boiling hot cell. Electric shocks were applied to his whole body – afterwards he found it difficult to walk. This went on for more than a year. In April 2004 he was released, with the proviso that he keep quiet about what had happened to him. Omar, however, phoned his wife and friends in Milan. They had had no idea whether or not he was still alive. Omar was worried and cagey, but confirmed that he had been kidnapped. This was too much for the Egyptians, who were probably tapping his phone. They immediately arrested him and sent him back to prison in Cairo. In November last year, an 11-page document written by Omar somehow reached magistrates in Milan and journalists on the Corriere della Sera. ‘I am writing this . . . from the inside of my tomb. I have lost weight . . . my condition is critical . . . my face has changed thanks to the tortures I have received . . . cockroaches and rats walk over my body . . . my hair and my beard have become white . . . I have lost my hearing in one ear.’ On 11 February this year Omar was finally released, but remains in Egypt.

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