CIA kidnap victim offered $2 million In hush money
Wife: Cleric offered $2 million deal
By John Crewdson, Tribune senior correspondent. Sherine Bayoumi and Altin Raxhimi contributed to this report
01/07/07 “Tribune” — — ALEXANDRIA, Egypt — According to Abu Omar’s wife, a few months ago two Egyptian officials visited her husband in his Cairo prison cell and made him an offer they hoped he wouldn’t refuse.
The offer was $2 million cash, according to the radical cleric’s wife Nabila Ghali. All Abu Omar needed to do was sign a paper saying he had come to Egypt of his own accord on Feb. 17, 2003, and to repeat that statement to the news media.
Feb. 17, 2003, is when Abu Omar vanished while walking down a side street in Milan, Italy. Prosecutors in Milan charge that he was kidnapped by the CIA and flown to Egypt, where he has been imprisoned for most of the time since then.
When Abu Omar asked where the money would come from, he was told simply “a foreign intelligence service,” according to an Italian investigator in the case. In a letter to another Milan imam after visiting her husband in prison, Ghali described the offer and said her husband never responded to it.
Milan’s deputy public prosecutor, Armando Spataro, has the letter now, preserved with other evidence to be used at the trial of 25 CIA operatives, a U.S. Air Force colonel and five senior Italian intelligence officials accused of participating in Abu Omar’s kidnapping.
Had Abu Omar agreed to the purported $2 million deal, there would have been no kidnapping, and therefore no case. Spataro’s investigators are working to find out who, if anyone, authorized a $2 million payment. A source close to the investigation said Spataro has confirmation from within the Italian intelligence community that the offer was genuine, though not that the Italians were to be the source of the funds.
A few days after the alleged visit by the two Egyptians, Abu Omar was moved from Torah Prison on the southern edge of Cairo to police headquarters in this Mediterranean port city, where he was born and where his family assembled on a Sunday evening in late October to discuss his case.
Gathered in the high-rise apartment of his sister, Rawya, and her husband, Magdi, a prominent Cairo lawyer–both asked that their last name not be used–were Abu Omar’s younger brother, Hitham, a chemical engineer and devout Muslim with a long gray beard, and Ghali, a schoolteacher dressed head to toe in black.
The family recounted Abu Omar’s Kafkaesque encounters with the Egyptian legal system, which began 13 months after his abduction in Milan.
Read the full 45-month saga here.