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Italian spy agency officials acquitted in CIA snatch

State secrecy invoked in extraordinary rendition case

24 February, 17:33
Italian spy agency officials acquitted in CIA snatch (updates previous) (ANSA) - Rome, February 24 - Italy's supreme court on Monday acquitted the former head and the No.2 of the Italian secret service agency, Nicolo' Pollari and Marco Mancini, as well as three agents, for involvement in the CIA's extraordinary rendition of Muslim cleric Hassan Mustafa Omar Nasr from Milan in 2003. The Cassation Court said sentences could not be upheld due to State secrecy. Pollari and Mancini were respectively appealing a 10-year and a nine-year sentence at a lower court for allowing the CIA to commit "a grave violation of national sovereignty" when they snatched Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, an Islamist suspected of recruiting jihadi fighters. Nasr, whose case 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 in December. 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.

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.

He emerged from an Egyptian prison four years later claiming he had been tortured.

Italian courts have awarded him one million euros in damages.

The case caused friction between Italy and the United States.

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.