Egyptian kidnap victim 'was tortured'

An Egyptian Muslim preacher allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents off the streets of an Italian city and taken to Egypt has been released, his lawyer and a security official said yesterday.

Attorney Montasser al-Zayat said Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was ordered free Sunday by an Egyptian State Security Court that found his detention in Egypt "unfounded."

Al-Zayat said Nasr was set free from a police station in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed the court's ruling and Abu Omar's release.

"He was freed and he is now at his family home Alexandria," al-Zayat told the Associated Press. "I talked to him, and he is fine but said he wants to have some rest."

Nasr was allegedly abducted from a Milan street in February 2003. He was allegedly flown out of Italy and taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured.

The security official said Nasr will remain in Egypt and will not be sent back to Italy.

Al-Zayat said the Egyptian court made the ruling after Nasr filed a lawsuit against the Interior Ministry accusing it of unlawful detention.

Italian prosecutors say Nasr's kidnapping on Feb. 17, 2003, was conducted by CIA agents with help from Italian agents, calling it a breach of Italian sovereignty.

According to Italian officials, the cleric fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia and was suspected of recruiting fighters for radical Islamic causes. But al-Zayat said Abu Omar had only traveled to Jordan, Yemen, Albania and Germany before entering Italy illegally in 1997.

His abduction is one of the few known cases of the secret CIA program of apprehending foreign terror suspects and sending them to third countries, including those that practice torture, for interrogation without court approval.

No charges have ever been brought against Nasr. But Italian courts continued a preliminary hearing on Monday to decided whether to indict 26 Americans and five Italian intelligence officials on criminal charges in Milan.

But a prosecutor in Milan, Guido Salvini, issued an arrest warrant for Nasr in April 2005 as part of a terrorism investigation. Nasr was in Egyptian custody at that point, and the two countries do not have an extradition treaty.

Italian investigators said they believe the abduction was overseen by the CIA's station chief in Rome and orchestrated by officials assigned to the U.S. Embassy there.

A trial would be the first criminal prosecution involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which terror suspects are secretly transferred for interrogation to third countries where critics say they may face torture.

Italian prosecutor Armando Spataro said Nasr's release would have little affect on the preliminary hearing, because in the Italian system the injured party cannot be called to testify at this stage.

But defense lawyer Guido Meroni, who is representing six American agents, said the release may help his clients as it may produce more definitive information on who was involved. He said evidence tying his clients to the abduction was circumstantial - including phone records and their presence at hotels in Italy before the abduction.

Egyptian officials have not publicly acknowledged Nasr's abduction or his detention in Egypt. They also have not publicly confirmed his country took part in renditions. But Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2005 that "people have been sent" to Egypt but would not say how many or discuss their cases.