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Rome court upholds CIA 'imam kidnap' convictions

Italy’s highest court has upheld guilty verdicts against 23 US operatives convicted of abducting an Egyptian imam in Milan in 2003. It also ordered a retrial for five Italian ex-operatives accused of being involved.

The agents were tried in absentia in the case concerning "extraordinary rendition" of suspected Islamic militants.

Italy's highest court upheld a sentence on Wednesday, first imposed by a lower court in December 2010. The 22 agents and one Air Force pilot were sentenced to between seven and nine years and ordered to pay damages. They had previously been sentenced in November 2009 to between five and eight years in prison, but had their sentences lengthened on appeal.

According to legal sources, the Wednesday ruling by the Rome court means the Italian Justice Ministry is now obliged to request the extradition of the agents from the United States.

Italy has, until now, not asked for the operatives to be extradited.

While the agents are still at liberty, they would run the risk of arrest if they were to travel to Europe.

The case revolves around the kidnap of radical Islamist figure Osama Mustafa Hassan, better known as Abu Omar, who was taken from a street in Milan in 2003. The operation was coordinated by the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI. Omar had been enjoying political asylum in Italy at the time.

It is alleged that he was taken to the Aviano US air base in northern Italy, then to an air base in Germany and eventually to Egypt, where he was said to have been tortured.

In its ruling, the court also ordered the retrial of two SISMI heads and three lower level officers who were previously freed on the grounds that a trial could harm national security.

rc / ccp (AF, Reuters)