Italian court to reach verdict in CIA kidnapping trial

3rd November 2009, Comments 0 comments

The trial, which opened in June 2007, is the highest profile case involving the CIA's covert "extraordinary rendition" programme in which scores of terror suspects are thought to have been transferred to countries known to practise torture.

Milan -- An Italian court is to reach a verdict this week in the landmark trial of 26 US secret agents in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect from a Milan street.

The trial, which opened in June 2007, is the highest profile case involving the CIA's covert "extraordinary rendition" programme in which scores of terror suspects are thought to have been transferred to countries known to practise torture.

The Milan court will reconvene Wednesday, when Judge Oscar Magi will invite brief final remarks before withdrawing to deliberate, with a verdict expected the same day, prosecutor Armando Spataro said in an e-mail to AFP.

Observers said the verdict may not be known until as late as Friday, however.

Twenty-five 25 CIA agents and a US air force colonel were tried in absentia in the case, which also involved seven Italian secret service officials including the former head of military intelligence, Nicolo Pollari, who was forced to quit over the affair.

Osama Mustafa Hassan, an imam better known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a Milan street on February 17, 2003, in an operation coordinated by the CIA and Italian military intelligence.

The radical Islamist opposition figure, who enjoyed political asylum in Italy, was allegedly taken to the US air force base in Aviano, northeastern Italy, then flown to the US base in Ramstein, Germany, and on to Cairo.

The imam's suspected captors failed to take many standard precautions, notably speaking openly on cell phones, leaving investigators to suspect that the Americans had cleared their intentions with senior Italian intelligence officials.

"No one could seriously argue that they were in Italy for other reasons" than to abduct Abu Omar and transfer him to Cairo via two US military bases, Spataro said in his closing arguments.

Spataro is seeking a 13-year jail term for former CIA chief Jeff Castelli and Pollari for their alleged role in the kidnapping.

He also argued that two former Italy-based CIA officials, Robert Lady and Sabrina De Sousa, should serve 12 years, while the officers believed to have been directly involved in seizing Abu Omar should spend 11 years behind bars.

Abu Omar's lawyer is demanding 10 million euros (14 million dollars) in damages for "humiliations that would be unimaginable for most human beings" when he was transferred to a high-security prison outside Cairo.

The trial was delayed as successive Italian governments sought to have it thrown out as a threat to national security.

The issue went before Italy's Constitutional Court, which agreed that part of the investigation had violated state secrecy provisions but said the prosecution could use evidence obtained correctly.

The kidnapping took place during Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's second stint in office, from 2001 to 2006, and he insists that he was never made aware of the operation.

The subsequent centre-left government of Romano Prodi followed Berlusconi's policy of refusing to seek the extradition of the American defendants.

Italian prosecutors suspect the cleric of having fought in Afghanistan and being involved in recruiting fighters for jihad, or holy war. Abu Omar has denied the allegations through his lawyer.

Spataro is known for his work against the left-wing militant group the Red Brigades that was active in the 1970s.

The prosecutor had been building a potential terrorism case against Abu Omar for months before the kidnapping and had secured convictions of a number of the cleric's acquaintances.

AFP/Expatica

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