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Hearing Begins for CIA Agents in Egyptian Muslim Cleric Kidnapping in Italy

A court in Milan is deciding whether to indict 25 alleged CIA agents and several Italians accused of kidnapping a Muslim cleric in 2003. During the hearing, the lawyer for a former CIA station chief withdrew from proceedings, saying the case should be resolved politically. Sabina Castelfranco reports for VOA from Rome.

U.S. and Italian spies urged their governments to prevent them from going on trial for the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect from Milan in 2003. Imam Osama Mustafa Hassan, also known as Abu Omar, was abducted from the streets of the city and says he was then taken to Egypt, where he was tortured.

An Italian judge on Tuesday began hearing arguments on whether six Italians and 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, should be indicted. The judge must decide whether there is sufficient evidence for a trial. None of the suspects attended the closed-door hearing.

Prosecutors say after being abducted in Milan the imam was driven to the Aviano military airbase in northern Italy, and flown via Germany to Egypt, where he was secretly interrogated and tortured. They say the Italian secret services cooperated with the CIA in promoting and organizing the kidnapping.

The incident is believed to be an example of extraordinary rendition, which involves transferring terrorism suspects to a third country for questioning. Italian prosecutors have said the operation was a breach of Italian sovereignty that compromised their own anti-terrorism efforts.

Among those facing prosecution is the retired CIA station chief in Milan, Robert Seldon Lady, who was rushed back to the United States when the abduction became public.

Shortly after the proceedings began Tuesday, the lawyer for Seldon Lady withdrew from the case, saying the former CIA station chief did not want to cooperate. The lawyer said her client believes this case should have had a political solution and not a judicial solution.

Among the Italians accused of the kidnapping is the former head of Italy's military intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari, who recently lost his job.

Lawyer Titta Madia, who defends Pollari, said he would request that testimony be heard from Italy's current and former prime ministers, Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi, so that they could also attest state secrecy restrictions in the case.

No decision was made at the hearing, another is scheduled for January 29.