The lawyer of an Egyptian imam, believed to have been illegally abducted from Milan in 2003 by the CIA, has been in Italy to meet with Italian prosecutors. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome the lawyer gathered information about an upcoming trial in which his client may lodge a civil case.

Montasser Al-Zayat, the lawyer of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, has been in Italy for a week. He has been trying to learn more about a trial which opens June 8 in Milan.

The trial is the first in Europe for a case of what is alleged to have been an extraordinary rendition, the CIA practice of taking an individual from a foreign country to hand him over to another nation for questioning.

Italian prosecutors say Abu Omar was kidnapped from the streets of Milan in February 2003, and flown to Egypt where he says he was interrogated and tortured. At the time, Italian authorities say he was under investigation for allegedly recruiting Muslim men to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Italian prosecutors have indicted 26 Americans, most believed to be CIA agents thought to have been involved in the rendition operation, and a number of Italian secret service officials, including the former chief of intelligence.

Lawyer Al Zayat said he would be back for the trial when it opens, but that it was useful for him to come now.

"This trip was very useful because I did not have sufficient information on the upcoming trial. But now I am clearer and have more details on the cases, which regard Abu Omar, the one in which he is the victim and the one for which he is under investigation," he said. 

Al Zayat said he met with Armando Spataro, the leading Italian prosecutor in the case. Spataro has wanted to speak to Abu Omar, but Egyptian authorities have not responded to his requests.

The Egyptian lawyer said he wants to give back Abu Omar his dignity, and safeguard his interests and rights. He also would like to see the case that involves the investigation into the activities of Abu Omar to be closed in the interest of his client and in the interest of the Italian state.

Lawyer Walid Mohamed represents Abu Omar's interests in Italy. He says he has sent a letter to the Italian government requesting that damages be paid for the kidnapping, but did not say how much Abu Omar was seeking. He said he would prefer to settle out of court, but was prepared to lodge a civil case.

For the time being, Abu Omar cannot leave Egypt because the authorities have confiscated his passport. But Mohamed said he thinks Abu Omar will eventually be able to return.

The lawyer said he does not believe that the Egyptian state is interested in permanently keeping Abu Omar in Egypt or barring him from leaving the country.

Mohamed added that Abu Omar is firm in his desire to return to Italy because he wants to show that he is innocent and that he was never involved in illegal activity. If the imam does return, Italian authorities would arrest him on suspicion of terrorist association.