WASHINGTON — The United States said Wednesday it is "disappointed" with the convictions in Italy of 23 US and two Italian secret agents for the CIA's kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003.

"We are disappointed by the verdicts against the Americans and Italians charged in Milan for their alleged involvement in the case involving Egyptian cleric Abu Omar," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

He declined to comment further pending a written opinion from the judge. He expected the case to be appealed.

The CIA's Milan station chief at the time, Robert Seldon Lady, was sentenced to eight years in prison and the other Americans to five years, all in their absence in the landmark trial.

The two Italians were given three-year prison terms following the first trial involving the transfer of a "war on terror" suspect by CIA operatives thought to have sent scores of people to countries known to practice torture.

Osama Mustafa Hassan, an imam better known as Abu Omar, was snatched from a Milan street on February 17, 2003, in the operation coordinated by the CIA and SISMI.

The radical Islamist opposition figure, who enjoyed political asylum in Italy, was allegedly taken to the US air force base in Aviano, northeastern Italy, then flown to the US base in Ramstein, Germany, and on to Cairo where he says he was tortured.

The "extraordinary rendition" programme was set up by the administration of then-president George W. Bush in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.