Italian court indicts CIA agents
19 February 2007, Milan (dpa) - In a landmark ruling that sets a legal precedent in Europe, a court in Milan on Friday indicted 26 CIA agents and Italy's former intelligence chief for the abduction a Muslim terrorism suspect. Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, 44, was an imam in Milan's main mosque who was being investigated by Italian prosecutors on charges that he ran a cell engaged in recruiting terrorists when he was snatched from the streets of Italy's financial capital on February 17, 2003. The cleric was ev
19 February 2007
Milan (dpa) - In a landmark ruling that sets a legal precedent in Europe, a court in Milan on Friday indicted 26 CIA agents and Italy's former intelligence chief for the abduction a Muslim terrorism suspect.
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, 44, was an imam in Milan's main mosque who was being investigated by Italian prosecutors on charges that he ran a cell engaged in recruiting terrorists when he was snatched from the streets of Italy's financial capital on February 17, 2003.
The cleric was eventually "rendered" to his native Egypt, where he remained imprisoned in a cell near Cairo despite the fact that no formal charges were brought against him. He was freed last weekend.
This is the first time that the United States' controversial "extraordinary rendition" practice, part of President George W Bush's global war on terror, is being made accountable to European law.
In Washington, the CIA declined to comment.
In her ruling Friday, Judge Caterina Interlandi indicted a total of 33 people. They include Nicolo Pollari, the former head of Italy's SISMI agency, and six Italian spies. All but two of the defendants are charged with conspiring to kidnap the cleric.
The trial's opening hearing has been set for June 8 in Milan.
In a related case, the Swiss government authorized Wednesday the start of criminal proceedings against those responsible for the cleric's abduction as the CIA flight carrying him to Egypt via Germany flew over Swiss airspace.
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Germany have issued arrest warrants for 13 people believed to have been working for the CIA in connection with the 2003 abduction of a German national.
The 13 suspects were crew and passengers on an aircraft which flew the victim - Khaled el-Masri - from Macedonia to Afghanistan.
Earlier this week, a report by the European parliament criticised the governments of more than 10 European states, including Britain, Italy and Germany, for covering up clandestine United States flights taking terrorism suspects across the continent.
According to the report, which concluded a year-long investigation by a special committee of the EU assembly, at least 1,245 CIA-operated flights flew over European airspace or stopped over at airports in Europe after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
During Friday's final preliminary hearing, Judge Interlandi rejected a request by defence lawyers representing Pollari for the hearing to be postponed.
His lawyers had called for the postponment after Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government referred the case to the country's highest court. The government has accused prosecutor Antonio Spataro of violating state secrets while gathering evidence for the probe.
Reacting to Friday's ruling, a defence lawyer representing Pollari's right-hand man, Marco Mancini, said the judge was wrong to call a trial before waiting for Italy's constitutional court to issue its ruling on the affair.
Pollari and Mancini argue that they cannot defend themselves in court without revealing confidential information that could threaten national security.
Nasr, who is also known as Abu Omar, claims he was tortured during questioning and now plans to sue Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister at the time of his abduction.
Berlusconi has denied any knowledge of the operation.
The cleric says he is not allowed to talk to the media but has made it known that he would like to return to Italy to testify in the trial.
None of the CIA suspects are currently in Italy and the Prodi government is refusing to seek their extradition to avoid damaging relations with Washington.
The 26 US nationals facing trial include Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA's station chief in Milan, and Jeff Castelli, the agency's former head in Italy.
Subject: German news