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CRIME

Ex-CIA agent to return to Italy to face sentence for imam kidnap

A former CIA agent who was found guilty of kidnapping an Egyptian imam by an Italian court more than a decade ago said on Thursday she intended to return to Italy to face her sentence, but hopes to avoid prison.

Ex-CIA agent to return to Italy to face sentence for imam kidnap
File photo of a police officer outside the cathedral in Milan, where the kidnap took place. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

Sabrina de Sousa, who holds dual American and Portuguese nationality, said she would leave Portugal to face the Italian courts over the abduction of radical preacher Abu Omar from a Milan street in 2003 in an operation allegedly led jointly by the CIA and the Italian intelligence services.

She has already gone on trial in absentia along with 22 others in what were the first legal convictions in the world against people involved in the CIA's extraordinary renditions programme that followed the September 11th, 2001 attacks.

“I'm going back to Italy next week to serve a sentence that will be determined by the Italian courts,” 60-year-old de Sousa told AFP, saying she hoped to be released on parole and carry out community service.

READ ALSO: Italy's imams to get training on the constitution

At the end of February, Italian President Sergio Mattarella granted her “a partial pardon of one year's imprisonment”, reducing her jail time to three years of a lenient form of sentence that does not necessarily need to be served behind bars and allows the convict to work.

Italy then withdrew the European arrest warrant issued after her arrest in October 2015 at Lisbon airport.

In an email sent from the US where she was preparing to have surgery, de Sousa said she would like to do her community service in Portugal but added that “even if I could… I would have reason to be very concerned about what would happen to me”.

“Portugal after all threw me in prison for ten days with no plausible reason for doing so”.

Omar was kidnapped on February 17th, 2003, before being transferred to Egypt where his lawyers say he was tortured, in a case that highlighted the controversial secret renditions of suspected radicals by the United States and its allies.

“This operation was approved by the highest levels of the US government,” said de Sousa. “What US officials in Washington and some in the Italian Government were told was that Abu Omar was a dangerous terrorist; and with that justification the CIA chief in Rome obtained the necessary approvals,” she added.

“This obviously turned out not to be the case and Abu Omar was released from an Egyptian prison. As with most cover-ups lower level officers like myself end up paying the price for decisions for which we had no input.”

READ ALSO: Italian Muslims face backlash after London attacker identified as half-Italian

ROME

Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome’s Trevi Fountain

With the return of tourism and scorching temperatures, Rome’s fountains are once again attracting visitors hoping to cool off with a midnight swim.

Tourist fined €450 for swim in Rome's Trevi Fountain

In the latest incident, a 26-year-old Spanish man was fined 450 euros after taking a dip in the Trevi Fountain in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Rome’s city police apprehended and fined the man after he was spotted swimming in the 18th-century monument at around 5am, according to local media reports.

READ ALSO: How to keep cool like an Ancient Roman in Italy’s summer heat

Every summer, hapless foreign visitors face fines of hundreds of euros after falling foul of Rome’s strict ban on taking a dip in public fountains – with the city mayor warning tourists that the centuries-old Baroque monuments are “not swimming pools”.

In April, two Dutch tourists also faced fines totalling over €1,000 after their own ill-advised splash in the Trevi Fountain.

The Roman landmark is one of the city’s main magnets for badly-behaved visitors, but tourists have also been fined after cooling off in the Santa Maria fountain in Trastevere, believed to be the city’s oldest. 

Since 2018, anyone caught misbehaving at Rome’s monuments can also face a temporary ‘Daspo’ ban from the area – similar to an ASBO (anti-social behaviour order) in the UK – which allows city police to restrict the movement of people they deem a threat to public order.

READ ALSO: From selfie brawls to midnight swims: Tourists behaving badly at the Trevi Fountain

But a plan to erect a one-metre-high glass and steel barrier around the Trevi fountain to protect it from unruly visitors now appears to have been abandoned after arts and heritage experts called the idea “foolish”.

Fines for swimming in the fountains have been in place since 2015, but this hasn’t stopped determined visitors from recreating scenes from La Dolce Vita and even some locals from taking a dip – – with or without their clothes.

Swimming in the wrong place is just one of the offences regularly committed by visitors, with graffiti and vandalism a common problem at many of Italy’s famous monuments.

READ ALSO: 15 strange ways to get into trouble on holiday in Italy

In Rome alone, this year tourists have made headlines for everything from breaking into the Colosseum to enjoy a drink with a view to driving a car down the Spanish Steps.

Other Italian tourism hotspots, including Florence and Venice, also have varying local rules in place aimed at curbing rowdy behaviour.

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