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CIA imam snatch damages frozen

Two Italian spies let off 1.5-mln-euro payment

28 September, 18:13
CIA imam snatch damages frozen (ANSA) - Milan, September 28 - An Italian judge on Tuesday froze a damages payment by two Italian former spies to an Egyptian cleric snatched by the CIA from Milan in a high-profile 2003 'extraordinary rendition' case.

The judge suspended the payment of 1.5 million euros to former Milan imam Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr and his wife by ex-military intelligence officers Pio Pompa and Luciano Seno. But he turned down a similar request from five CIA agents and the former commander of a US air force base on the grounds that they carried out the abduction while Pompa and Seno were only guilty of aiding and abetting.

An appeals trial for the kidnapping is set to open on October 12 and is expected to last a couple of months.

At the end of the first trial, on November 4, 22 CIA agents and a US Air Force colonel were convicted in absentia, with most given five-year jail sentences.

Italy's top two former spies, former SISMI (now AISE) chief Nicolo' Pollari and his ex-No.2 Marco Mancini, were acquitted.

The two-year trial was the first, long-awaited judicial examination of the controversial US rendition policy.

The top US defendant, former CIA Milan station chief Jeff Castelli, saw his diplomatic immunity plea granted.

Two other CIA agents, Betnie Medero and Ralph Russomando, were also granted immunity.

Among those found guilty were the CIA's ex-Rome station chief Robert Seldon Lady, who received an eight-year sentence, and a former US consular official prosecutors said was an undercover agent, Sabrina De Sousa.

Pollari and Mancini were acquitted because of a state-secrecy injunction but Pompa and Seno got three years.

Nasr, an Islamist wanted in Italy on suspicion of recruiting jihadi fighters, was awarded one million euros in damages while his wife was awarded 500,000 euros.

The cleric, who is also known as Abu Omar, did not attend the trial because he was unable to leave Egypt.

Nasr disappeared from a Milan street on February 17, 2003.

Prosecutors said he was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with SISMI's help and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany.

He emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later, claiming he was tortured and threatened with rape.

US-ITALIAN FRICTION.

The case caused friction between Italy and the United States, which voiced its "disappointment" with the verdict.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said after the verdict he sympathised with US concerns, noting that the judiciary in Italy was independent but despite this, the Italian government had obtained the secrecy injunction.

He also voiced confidence that none of the Americans risked serving time.

Some of the agents had said they were worried they would become international fugitives but Frattini said: "I don't think those US operatives will go to jail".

"Judges' decisions have to be respected even when you don't agree with them," he said.

Extraordinary rendition was first authorised by Bill Clinton in the 1990s and stepped up when George W. Bush declared war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks by Al-Qaeda.

Successive Italian governments denied all knowledge of the case and consistently ruled out the possibility of extradition.

During the trial the CIA refused to comment and its officers were silent until Lady, the ex-Rome chief, told an Italian daily in August 2009 that he was only following orders.

Lady, who has now retired, said from an undisclosed location that he was ''a soldier...in a war against terrorism''.

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and his predecessor Romano Prodi obtained the Constitutional Court secrecy ruling, which also exempted them from testifying.

The trial of Nasr claimed headlines worldwide and stoked discussion of rendition, which was extended by President Barack Obama in 2008 under the proviso that detainees' rights should be respected.

The Council of Europe, a 47-nation human rights body, called Nasr's case a "perfect example of rendition".

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