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Alleged agents of CIA charged

Judge enables trial in Italy

MILAN -- An Italian judge indicted 25 suspected CIA agents and a US Air Force lieutenant colonel yesterday in the alleged kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric who had been under investigation for recruiting Islamist fighters.

The indictment paves the way for Italy to put the Americans, along with five Italians, on trial in June in the first criminal case involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

The Americans have all left Italy, and it is unlikely that they would be turned over for prosecution, even if Italy requests their extradition.

All but one of the Americans have been identified as CIA agents, including the former Milan station chief , Robert Seldon Lady , and former Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli. The other is Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Joseph L. Romano III, who was stationed at Aviano.

Prosecutors believe that many of the American names are aliases.

The agents have court-appointed lawyers, who have had no contact with the clients. In Italy, defendants can be tried in absentia.

Prosecutors allege that five Italian intelligence officials worked with the Americans to abduct Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr from a street in Milan on Feb. 17, 2003.

Nasr was allegedly taken to Aviano Air Base near Venice, Ramstein Air Base in southern Germany, and then to Egypt, where he was held for four years and tortured , according to his lawyer . An Egyptian court that ruled his detention was "unfounded" freed him earlier this week.

The Italian government this week asked the country's Constitutional Court to rule on whether prosecutors overstepped their bounds by wiretapping phone telephone conversations of Italian secret service agents.

The government has said it will wait for a ruling to respond to prosecutors' request to extradite the agents, which could suspend the trial before it starts.