Former Aviano security forces officer sought in alleged abduction of cleric
July 7, 2006
An American military officer sought by Italian prosecutors in connection with the alleged 2003 abduction of an Islamic leader in Milan is the former security forces commander at Aviano Air Base, according to a warrant issued by an Italian judge Wednesday.
The warrant identifies the former commander as Lt. Col. Joseph Romano. The warrant, issued as part of the abduction investigation, also is directed at three CIA agents who have not been named publicly. Romano’s name also has been published in Italian media and the Los Angeles Times.
Romano served as commander of the 31st Security Forces Squadron in 2003 during the period in which the alleged abduction by CIA agents of a cleric known as Abu Omar occurred.
According to various media reports, Omar — who was under surveillance by Italian agents — was taken from Milan to Aviano and then flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
He reportedly was later transferred to Egypt, where he is believed to still be held.
U.S. military officials consistently have declined to talk about the case or provide information about any role the bases may have had. That was again the case Thursday.
“It is inappropriate to comment on this when there is an ongoing investigation,” said Capt. Jennifer Ferrau of the 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs Office at Aviano.
Col. Pat Mackin, a public affairs officer for the U.S. European Command, referred an inquiry to the Department of Defense. “Though it is a policy that the department does not discuss intelligence or ongoing judicial matters,” he noted.
Lt. Cmdr. Joe Carpenter, with the Department of Defense press office in Washington, said the Defense Department is aware of the reports. He said, “The department would work in conjunction with the government in analyzing any requests from the Italian government.” But he said, at this point, it would be “premature to speculate” about the situation.
Romano is currently stationed at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Attempts to call him at his office at Maxwell on Thursday were not successful.
Wednesday’s warrants are in addition to 22 others sought in December by an Italian prosecutor in Milan. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government reportedly declined to ask the United States for extraditions of the people — reportedly all CIA agents — listed in those warrants. Since then, Italians voted a center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi into power.
Prodi generally is not viewed as supportive of American policies and actions as Berlusconi, and reports in Italian media have speculated that the new government might forward the requests to Washington.
Two members of the Italian secret service also were detained this week, according to numerous media reports. Berlusconi’s government had steadfastly denied any knowledge or help in the alleged abduction, and the arrests marked the first time that an Italian had been connected to the event.