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Pakistani man, on trial in Italy for murder of daughter who refused marriage, is being extradited

ROME (AP) — Italian police on Thursday took into custody in Pakistan a Pakistani man who is on trial in Italy for the murder of his daughter after she refused family demands to marry a cousin in their homeland.

The court case, in Reggio Emilia, northern Italy, is the most high-profile of several criminal investigations in Italy in recent years dealing with the slaying or mistreatment of immigrant women or girls who rebelled against family insistence that they marry someone chosen for them.

Saman Abbas’ body was dug up in November 2022 in an abandoned farmhouse near the fields where her father worked in northern Italy. Italian prosecutors contend the 18-year-old woman was murdered by her family on May 1, 2021. A few days later, her parents flew from Milan to Pakistan.

Abbas' uncle, two cousins, her father, Shabbir Abbas, and her mother went on trial in February 2023. Both her parents were being tried in absentia. The mother's whereabouts are unknown but she is believed to be in Pakistan, according to Italian authorities.

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All the defendants have denied wrongdoing.

For months, Italy had pressed the Pakistani government to allow the extradition of Shabbir Abbas. His return to Italy on the murder charge underscores Italy's resolve to prosecute those who violate Italian laws against forced marriage.

The father, escorted by Italian police, was put aboard an Italian military plane, which was due to land in Rome on Friday, Reggio Emilia's prosecutors' office said.

In a statement, Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni hailed the extradition of the father, charged in Italy “for the savage murder of daughter Saman” as an “important step forward to allow justice to run its course.”

After Italian police tracked him down, Shabbir Abbas was arrested in his village in eastern Punjab in Pakistan in November 2022. In early July Pakistan's top court approved Italy's extradition request, and the government earlier this week gave its permission for his transfer to Italy.

Saman Abbas had emigrated as a teenager from Pakistan to a farm town, Novellara, in Italy's northern region of Emilia-Romagna. She quickly embraced Western ways, including shedding her headscarf and dating a young man of her choice. In one social media post, she and her Pakistani boyfriend were shown kissing on a street in the regional capital, Bologna.

According to Italian investigators, that kiss enraged Abbas’ parents, who wanted her to marry a cousin in Pakistan.

The young woman was last seen alive on April 30, 2021 — a few hundred meters (yards) away from where her body was discovered — in surveillance camera video as she walked with her parents on the watermelon farm where her father worked.

Abbas had reportedly told her boyfriend that she feared for her life, because of her refusal to marry an older man in her homeland.

An autopsy revealed a broken neck bone, possibly caused by strangulation.

Before the trial began, the uncle and a cousin were extradited from France, and another cousin from Spain.

A lawyer for Saman Abbas' father has said in comments to Italian state television that the young woman’s family is innocent and that she had wanted to return with her family to Pakistan to flee Western ways.

In 2019, Italy made coercing an Italian citizen or resident into marriage, even abroad, a crime covered under domestic violence laws.