He is a member of al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, an Islamic organisation that was formerly dedicated to the overthrow of the Egyptian government; the group has committed to peaceful means following the coup d'état that toppled Mohamed Morsi. The group has been linked to the murder of Anwar Sadat in 1981 and a terrorist campaign in the 1990s that culminated in the November 1997 Luxor massacre. As a result, it is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union. After the Egyptians declared the group illegal, Nasr sought asylum in Italy. During the 1990s he fought in Bosnia.
On 17 February 2003, Nasr was abducted by CIA agents as he walked to his mosque in Milan for noon prayers, thus becoming an effective ghost detainee. He was later transported to a prison in Egypt where, he states, he was tortured.
In April 2004, while his incarceration had been downgraded to house arrest, Nasr placed several phone calls from Egypt to his family and friends. He told them he had been rendered into the hands of Egypt's SSI at Tora Prison, twenty miles south of Cairo. He said he had been subjected to various depredations, tortured by beating and electric shocks to the genitals, raped, and eventually had lost hearing in one ear. At the time of the calls he had been released on the orders of an Egyptian judge because of lack of evidence. Shortly after those calls were made he was re-arrested and placed back in prison.
Nasr's case has been qualified by Swiss senator Dick Marty as a "perfect example of extraordinary rendition", and in Italy prompted a series of investigations and intrigues within the Italian intelligence community and criminal justice system collectively referred to as the Imam Rapito (or "kidnapped Imam") affair in the Italian press.
In February, 2016, the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy over this affair and ordered Italy to pay €115,000 (£90,000; $127,000) in damages and expenses to Nasr and his wife, Nabila Ghali.
On 4 November 2009, an Italian judge convicted in absentia 22 CIA agents, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) colonel and two Italian secret agents of the kidnap. Eight other American and Italian defendants were acquitted.
Former Milan CIA station chief, Robert Seldon Lady, received an eight-year prison sentence. USAF Lieutenant Colonel Joseph L. Romano, at the time of the conviction commander of the 37th Training Group of the 37th Training Wing, and 21 of the American defendants received five-year prison sentences. Those convicted were also ordered to each pay 1 million Euros to Nasr and 500,000 Euros to Nasr's wife.
In 2010, leaked diplomatic documents revealed the efforts the United States used in an attempt to stop Italy from indicting the CIA agents, and that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi assured US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that he was "working hard to resolve the situation" but that the Italy's judicial system was "dominated by leftists".
In July 2013, Robert Seldon Lady was initially detained in Panama at the request of Italian authorities, but then released and allowed to board a flight to the United States.
In January 2016, former C.I.A. agent Sabrina De Sousa, one of the agents convicted in Italy, was ordered by Portugal to be extradited to Italy, although that order will be appealed. She was briefly detained at the Lisbon airport in October, 2015, and her passport was confiscated pending a court review of the European arrest warrant issued for her arrest. She has disclaimed any involvement in the affair and has been working to clear her name, including writing a memoir about her activities. Her appeal was denied on April 11, 2016. After being detained in Portugal in February 2017 and about to be deported to Italy, she was pardoned by the Italian president and released on 28th February 2017.
On 11 February 2007, Nasr's lawyer Montasser el-Zayat confirmed that his client had been released and was now back with his family. After four years of detention, an Egyptian court ruled that his imprisonment was "unfounded."
In December, 2013, Nasr was convicted in absentia of terrorism by an Italian court for offenses before his abduction. Egypt had not responded to Italian requests to extradite or even interview Nasr for the trial. Nasr remains living in Egypt and is unlikely to be sent to Italy to serve out his sentence.