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Cabinet backs inquiry into CIA flight

Between 2001 and 2006, CIA planes flew through Swiss airspace 73 times according to the Swiss authorities swissinfo.ch

The government has authorised plans to launch criminal proceedings over an alleged CIA flight that took a kidnapped Muslim preacher across Swiss airspace.

This content was published on February 14, 2007 - 17:36

The CIA allegedly flew Nasr Osama Mustafa Hassan - known as Abu Omar - from Aviano air base in Italy across Switzerland to Ramstein air base in Germany, and then on to Cairo in Egypt, in February 2003.

"In the view of the government, the use of Swiss air space for an abduction cannot be tolerated," said a statement by the seven-member cabinet on Wednesday.

"There is evidence that basic norms of international law were violated."

Nasr was released on Sunday when an Egyptian state security court judged his detention for four years in Egypt to have been unfounded.

Daniel Wendell, spokesman for the US embassy in Bern, said he was aware of the decision but had no specific comment concerning Abu Omar.

But he reiterated: "The United States has not used the airspace or airports of any country for the purpose of transporting a detainee to a country where he will be tortured."

Swiss investigation

Swiss prosecutors opened an investigation in December 2005 and applied to the cabinet a year later for permission to start proceedings against those involved in the kidnapping on suspicion that they violated the country's law.

"Switzerland does not tolerate human rights violations even in the fight against terrorism," the cabinet said.

The government cited possible violations of the country's law concerning forbidden activities by foreign agents. Under that law, a sentence of up to three years in prison can be imposed on anyone who undertakes actions for a foreign government on Swiss territory without permission.

It also specifies a prison term of at least one year for abduction through violence, trickery or threats, followed by delivery to an agency or organisation outside Switzerland.

Suspect flights

In June 2006, the Federal Civil Aviation Office said CIA planes landed in Switzerland 58 times and flew through the country's airspace 73 times between February 2001 and February 2006.

One plane, registered to the US Department of Defence, flew across the country twice on February 17, 2003, on a flight from Ramstein to Aviano and back again to Ramstein.

Italian prosecutors reportedly have identified the plane – a Learjet 35 with the call sign SPAR92 – as being used to fly Abu Omar to Ramstein, from where he was taken on another plane to Cairo.

Italian authorities, meanwhile, are holding a preliminary hearing in Milan to decide whether to indict 26 Americans and five Italian intelligence officials on criminal charges in the alleged 2003 abduction of Abu Omar. That hearing will conclude on Friday.

Damning EU report

In a parallel development on Wednesday, European Union lawmakers accused European governments and secret services of accepting and concealing secret US flights of terrorism suspects across the continent.

The European parliament approved a damning report on secret CIA flights and voted to accept a non-binding resolution concluding a year of investigations into allegations that the CIA secretly held terror suspects in Europe and flew some to states that practise torture. Switzerland, which is not in the EU, is not mentioned in that report.

According to the EU report, the US had operated 1,200 flights, flying suspects on to states where they could face torture.

The article adopted by the parliamentarians said the European Parliament "condemns extraordinary rendition as an illegal instrument used by the United States in the fight against terrorism".

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Extraordinary rendition is an American extra-judicial procedure. It involves sending untried suspects or alleged supporters of groups that the US considers to be terrorist organizations, to countries other than the United States for imprisonment and interrogation.

Critics say these renditions are used to avoid US laws prescribing due process and prohibiting torture.

The procedure was allegedly developed by the CIA in the mid-1990s as it attempted to track down and dismantle militant Islamic organizations in the Middle East, particularly al Qaeda.

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Key facts

The 14 EU countries implicated in the EU report for colluding with CIA extraordinary renditions programme, allowing undeclared flights or failing to investigate kidnappings of their citizens or residents: Austria, Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Sweden.
At least 1,245 undeclared flights operated by the CIA flew into European airspace or stopped over at European airfields after September 11, 2001.

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