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CIA snatch imam sentenced to six years for terrorism

Nasr's group 'planned attacks in Italy and abroad'

06 December, 18:55
CIA snatch imam sentenced to six years for terrorism (By Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Milan, December 6 - A Muslim cleric whose extraordinary rendition by the CIA from Milan almost 11 years ago led to the world's first judicial examination of the controversial practice in the so-called war on terror got a jail term of six years for international terrorism Friday. A Milan judge ruled the former imam in the northern Italian city, Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was part of an association "which aimed to carry out acts of violence with terrorist ends in Italy and abroad".

Nasr and 13 others, many of whom have been jailed, acted for the Ansar al Islam group which had "a criminal plan shared with similar organisations active in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East," the judge said.

Nasr, who was snatched off a Milan street by US intelligence agents in February 2003, is in Egypt and did not attend the trial.

In September 2012 Italy's top court of appeals upheld the convictions of 22 CIA agents and a former US air force officer, Joseph L. Romano, for the abduction.

The Court of Cassation confirmed the seven-year sentences for 22 of them and a nine-year term for former Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano later pardoned Romano.

The CIA officers were formally facing extradition and Lady was arrested in Panama in July but freed a day later when the US government stepped in. He asked Italy for a pardon in September.

On December 16 the Cassation Court will start hearing the final appeals of the then head and No.2 of Italian secret service agency SISMI, Nicolò Pollari and Marco Mancini, respectively against a 10-year and a nine-year sentence.

Nasr, an Islamist suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters, disappeared from a Milan street on February 17, 2003 and emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later claiming he had been tortured.

Italian courts have awarded him one million euros in damages.

None of the CIA operatives has appeared in court.

Nasr was snatched by a team of CIA operatives with the help of SISMI - later renamed as AISE - and taken to a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Cairo.

In the closely watched case, the agents' terms were lengthened from 5-8 years to 7-9 years in December 2010.

The case caused friction between Italy and the United States, which voiced its "disappointment" with the 2010 verdict.

Extraordinary rendition was first authorised by former American president Bill Clinton in the 1990s and stepped up when his successor 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.

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.