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September 20, 2012 12:00:00 AM
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Italy's top court Wednesday confirmed guilty verdicts against 23 CIA agents for the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian imam in Milan and ordered a re-trial for two Italian ex-spies accused of taking part.

The CIA agents were all being tried in absentia in one of the world's biggest court cases against the US "extraordinary rendition" programme to interrogate alleged Islamist militants after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

The 23 CIA agents were originally sentenced in November 2009 to five to eight years in prison and in December 2010 had their sentences increased to seven to nine years on appeal and ordered to pay damages to the imam.

Washington has refused to extradite the agents, who all remain at liberty but risk arrest if they travel to Europe.

Osama Mustafa Hassan, a radical Islamist opposition figure better known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a street in Milan in 2003 in an operation coordinated by the CIA and the Italian military intelligence agency SISMI.

Abu Omar, who enjoyed political asylum in Italy at the time, was then allegedly taken to the Aviano US air base in northeastern Italy, flown to a US base in Germany, and on to Cairo, where he says he was tortured.

In Wednesday's ruling, the court also said that two former heads of SISMI, Nicolo Pollari and Marco Mancini, should be re-tried.

The two were acquitted by the appeals court in 2010 in a ruling that said producing evidence against them would have violated state secrecy laws.

The "extraordinary rendition" programme was launched in 2003 by then US president George W. Bush and saw scores of suspects returned to their home countries, some of which were known to use torture.

Abu Omar's US captors failed to take many standard precautions, notably speaking openly on cell phones, leading investigators to suspect they had cleared their intentions with Italian intelligence.


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