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29th May 2022

Over 1,000 illegal CIA flights in Europe, MEPs say

  • The CIA did not notify EU air authorities of their operations at European airports, the reports says (Photo: European Commission)

The CIA has conducted more than 1,000 undeclared flights over European territory since 2001, and governments knew it, a European Parliament interim report suggests.

A temporary parliament committee investigating alleged CIA activities in Europe on Wednesday (26 April) presented its mid-term findings, backing up earlier allegations that the CIA had carried out clandestine operations in Europe in the context of "the war on terror."

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"The CIA has, on several occasions, clearly been responsible for kidnapping and illegally detaining alleged terrorists on the territory of member states, as well as for extraordinary renditions," Socialist MEP and the committee's rapporteur, Claudio Fava, told reporters in Brussels.

Mr Fava's report states that the US had most probably violated the so-called Chicago Convention on flight transport, with the CIA using European airports for police and intelligence operations without notifying the national air authorities.

Using leased private "facade" airplanes on a permanent basis, the CIA has exploited a legal loophole that allows private aircraft to land at foreign airports without having to inform local authorities – unlike government or military planes.

MEPs have cross-checked data provided by Eurocontrol, the EU's air safety agency, with information collected during three months of hearings and more than 50 hours of testimony by alleged victims, EU officials, media reports and human rights groups.

EU governments likely to have known

Rapporteur Fava said it was highly unlikely that EU governments and authorities were unaware of CIA prison flights.

Italy, Sweden, and Bosnia and Herzegovina were highlighted for having condoned the US secret service kidnapping, detaining and imprisoning terrorist suspects on their territory.

Italy is criticised for the kidnapping of Egyptian Abu Omar in broad daylight in Milan in 2003 by 22 CIA-agents, while Bosnia had allegedly handed over six Algerians to US agents in the country for flights to Guantanamo on Cuba.

Both the Swedish constitutional committee and ombudsman have reported that the former Swedish foreign minister, Anna Lindh, signed an authorisation for the US intelligence to carry out an abduction of two Egyptians from Sweden.

"Sweden is responsible for having sent away and handed them over to the CIA, knowing they would fly them to Egypt. All they did was to ask for insurances from Cairo that nothing gruesome would happen to these individuals," Mr Fava said, adding that reports came immediately that the suspects had been subjected to torture.

No ordinary pit-stops

The MEPs' report also expresses scepticism about claims that mysterious US planes landing and departing from European airports had merely made pit-stops for fuel.

"The routes for some of these flights seem to be quite suspect," Mr Fava said, explaining one of the detected planes had flown from Poland to Morocco and than to Guantanamo on Cuba.

"They are rather strange routes for flights to take. It is hard to imagine ... those stopovers were simply for providing fuel," Mr Fava said.

The chairman of the parliament committee, Portuguese conservative Carlos Coelho, said that the interim report was "excellent work", but underlined however that it does not yet represent the official position of the European Parliament.

All MEPs will have a chance to vote- and propose amendments- on the final report, which is to be unveiled in summer.

Mr Coelho, who has asked for collaboration from the EU governments via their ambassadors in Brussels, said that governments, with few exceptions, had been cooperative and sent documentation to Brussels.

A group of MEPs from the committee will travel to Skopje in Macedonia next week to meet politicians and officials, and another group will fly to Washington to meet members of the US senate and the US congress.

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