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Ex-CIA agent gets partial pardon for kidnapping

March 1, 2017

Sabrina de Sousa was found guilty of unlawfully kidnapping imam Abu Omar in Milan. The Italian president took one year off her sentence in light of the fact that the US no longer practices "extraordinary rendition."

Ägypten Allexandria Imam Abu Omar
Image: picture-alliance/ROPI/M. Gebauer

Former CIA officer Sabrina de Sousa had one year shaved off her prison sentence on Tuesday by Italian President Sergio Mattarella. De Sousa was set to be extradited to Italy from Portugal on Wednesday to serve time for her role in the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric off the streets of Milan.

USA Sabrina de Sousa in Pentagon Row
Sabrina de Sousa in 2012Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/The Washington Post/N. Kahn

The Portuguese-American de Sousa now faces a sentence of three years instead of four. The reduction was further significant because under Italian law she is now allowed to stay in detention outside prison, making it unclear if she would be able to stay in Portugal after all.

The case relates to the February 2003 kidnapping of imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. The cleric was one of many suspected Islamists who was kidnapped, questioned and sometimes tortured on CIA "black sites" off of US soil in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks under the Bush administration's policy of "extraordinary rendition."Despite being wanted in Italy as well on terrorism charges, a court in Egypt where he was being held found his detention unlawful and freed him in 2007.

In 2016, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Rome to pay Nasr and his wife 115,000 euros ($127,000) in damages.

Dozens convicted over the abduction

De Sousa was arrested at the Lisbon airport in October 2015 while visiting her mother. She is one of 26 US agents to be tried and convicted in absentia over the matter. She has consistently denied being involved and has repeatedly lost attempts to fight her extradition.

Italy was the first country to take US intelligence agents to courts over the kidnappings and interrogations that took place in the Bush era. The Italian officials who were tried over the Nasr incident had their convictions thrown out when the country's top court ruled that prosecuting them could reveal information sensitive to state security.

President Matarella said he decided to reduce her sentence largely because the program of extraordinary rendition had been suspended under President Barack Obama.

es/bw (AP, AFP)