Italy condemned over imam's CIA abduction

Italy condemned over imam's CIA abduction
3 min read
24 February, 2016
Abu Omar was the focus of an infamous 'rendition' operation at the hands of Washington's spy agency in 2003.
Abu Omar claims he was tortured after he was kidnapped by the CIA [Getty]
Italy's role in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian imam from a street in Milan has been strongly condemned by the European Court of Human Rights.

The legal consensus backed imam Osama Mustafa Nasr -better known as Abu Omar - stating that by allowing the CIA to abduct him, "Italian authorities had exposed him to a serious and foreseeable risk of ill-treatment and of conditions of detention".

Abu Omar, who had been granted political asylum in Italy, says he was mistreated by authorities and was stripped of his rights to liberty, security and fair trial among others.

Despite Italy's outright denial of any involvement in the case, the court found it guilty of breaching key clauses in the EU Convention of Human Rights and ordered Rome to pay 115,000 euro ($127,000) in compensation to Abu Omar and his wife.

"Italian authorities were aware that the applicant had been a victim of an extraordinary rendition operation which had begun with his abduction in Italy and had continued with his transfer abroad," the court said.

Italy failed to provide adequate evidence in the case against Abu Omar, said prosecutors, but a spokesman for Rome stated: "The information and documents requested by the public prosecutor's office were covered by state secrecy and the conditions for lifting that secrecy were not met."

The court responded, saying "state secrecy had clearly been applied by the Italian executive in order to ensure that those responsible did not have to answer for their actions".

He was... subjected to interrogation sessions during which he was ill-treated and tortured

Abu Omar, member of the group Jamaa al-Islamiya - an Islamist movement regarded by the Egyptian government as a terrorist organisation - was abducted by CIA agents as he was walking in Milan, where he had lived since 1998.

He was taken to a US Air Force base where he was transferred by plane to Germany and on to Cairo before being interrogated by Egyptian intelligence services on his activities in Italy.

"Mr Nasr was detained in secret until 19 April 2004 in cramped and unhygienic cells. He was taken out of his cell at regular intervals and subjected to interrogation sessions during which he was ill-treated and tortured," an EU court statement said.

He was released in April 2004.

Authorities returned in 2014 with a case against Abu Omar, accusing him of conspiracy to commit international terrorist acts and having links to fundamentalist networks.

Investigators found US nationals, including members of the US diplomatic consular corps in Italy, were involved in the events, confirming the CIA chief in Milan at the time, Robert Seldon Lady, had played a "key role".

A group of 23 Americans were convicted in Italy in 2009, in absentia, for the abduction of Abu Omar, while two agents from the Italian military intelligence agency, SISMi, were found guilty of obstructing the investigation and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.

Allegations against former SISMi agents, including the agency's former head and his deputy, were quashed by the Court of Cassation on grounds of state secrecy.

"The investigation and trial had not led to the punishment of those responsible, who had therefore ultimately been granted impunity," the court said.