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Man at Center of Italian Rendition Case Freed in Egypt


An imam who was kidnapped in Italy in 2003 in what is believed to have been an extraordinary rendition operation by the CIA and Italian secret services has been released from prison in Cairo. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome an Italian court has resumed hearing evidence in the case of the man's removal from Italy.

A Milan court has resumed hearing the case of an extraordinary rendition believed to have been carried out jointly by CIA agents and the Italian secret service. The case involves an Egyptian imam, Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, who was grabbed off the streets of Milan in February 2003.

Egyptian authorities released Abu Omar on Sunday after four years behind bars. His lawyer in Cairo, Montasser al-Zayat, said his client was freed because there was no longer any justification for his arrest.

Abu Omar has said he was taken from Italy against his will. He has described being pushed into a van as he was walking from his home to a mosque in Milan, he says he was then taken to the U.S. air base at Aviano, from where he was flown to Germany and then to Egypt.

Abu Omar said while in an Egyptian jail he was tortured using electric shocks, beatings, rape threats, and genital abuse. His lawyer said he attempted suicide three times.

In Italy, a judge is to decide at the end of this week whether to indict 32 suspects, including 26 Americans believed to be CIA agents and the former head of Italy's secret services, Nicolo Pollari. Prosecutors say they were involved in Abu Omar's rendition to Egypt.

Italian prosecutors say they would like to question Abu Omar, but it is unclear whether Egyptian authorities will grant access to him or whether he will speak about what happened to him since his abduction on February 17, 2003.

It is also unclear whether he would be allowed to travel to Italy. In June 2005 an Italian judge issued an arrest warrant on charges of international terrorism for Abu Omar.

Abu Omar's Italian lawyer, Antonio Nebuloni, says his client's return to Italy would be significant for the case being heard in Milan.

Nebuloni said it is a decision that he must make, whether to come back, let himself be arrested and be present in the preliminary hearings trial, which is ongoing and continues for his abductors.

A decision by the Italian judge to issue indictments at the end of the week would pave the way for the first criminal procedure over renditions. The case is being watched closely in the United States, Europe and Italy.