World News

European court condemns Italy for role in 2003 kidnap of refugee imam

ROME (Reuters) - Europe’s top human rights court condemned Italy on Tuesday for its role in the 2003 kidnap by the CIA of an Egyptian Muslim cleric under the U.S. “extraordinary rendition” program.

File photo of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, in his house in Alexandria, Egypt May 13, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was snatched off a street in Milan in 2003 and flown to Egypt, where he said he was tortured during seven months as a captive.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said in a statement that Italy, which had granted refugee status to the imam, was aware that he had suffered extraordinary rendition.

“Italian authorities had a duty to take the appropriate measures to ensure that the persons within their jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” it said.

Italy’s foreign ministry declined to comment on the ruling.

The ECHR ordered Italy to pay 70,000 euros ($77,000) to Nasr, saying national authorities had “knowingly exposed him to a real risk” of treatment contrary to anti-torture laws.

It ordered a further 15,000 euros be paid to Nasr’s wife, who it said suffered a lengthy period of “severe mental suffering and distress” when her husband disappeared, and a further 30,000 euros to the pair to cover their costs.

The couple have still not received combined payments of 1.5 million euros provisionally awarded to them by a Milan court, the ECHR said.

In 2009 Italy convicted 22 CIA officials and an army officer for Nasr’s kidnapping in a case that led to diplomatic tension between Rome and Washington, although none of the 23 was ever detained in Italy. The trial was the first of its kind against “renditions” practiced by former U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in Washington and New York.

Former CIA Milan station chief Robert Seldon Lady received a partial pardon from Italy’s president in December, and the sentence handed to a more junior official was effectively canceled.

Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Hugh Lawson