Ex-CIA Milan chief held in Panama over cleric abduction

Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar (file image from 2007)
Image caption Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was snatched from Milan in 2003

A former CIA station chief convicted by an Italian court of kidnapping a terror suspect has been detained in Panama, Italian officials say.

Robert Seldon Lady was sentenced to nine years in jail for his involvement in the abduction of the man, an Egyptian cleric, in Milan in 2003.

The cleric, known as Abu Omar, was allegedly flown to Egypt and tortured.

Lady was convicted in absentia with 22 other Americans for their role in his "extraordinary rendition".

But the Italian authorities have so far only sought the international arrest of the former Milan station chief, Italian media say.

The CIA said it had no immediate comment on the arrest, while Panamanian officials have so far denied knowledge of the detention.

Panama and Italy do not have an extradition treaty, so it is unclear if Lady will be sent to Italy to serve his prison sentence.

Aliases used

Lady was reportedly arrested near Panama's border with Costa Rica.

According to Italian media reports, an international warrant was sought by the justice minister in Italy's previous government in December 2012.

A prosecutor on Lady's case said the Interpol warrant reflected Italy's determination to have him extradited.

The Milan case was the first involving extraordinary rendition, the CIA's practice of transferring suspects to countries where torture is permitted.

The practice has been condemned by human rights groups as a violation of international agreements.

Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, who was considered a terrorism suspect by the US, was abducted on a Milan street in February 2003 and transferred between US military bases in Italy and Germany before being brought to Egypt.

Twenty-two CIA agents, including Lady and an air force pilot, were convicted in 2009 of abducting the cleric. Their sentences were upheld last year by Italy's highest appeals court.

Three more Americans, including CIA Rome station chief Jeffrey Castelli, were convicted by an appeals court in February.

None of the 26 convicted has ever appeared in an Italian court, and only two have had any contact with their lawyers. A number of the names of those convicted are believed to be aliases, the Associated Press reports.

Lady reportedly rushed back to the US in 2007, when court hearings began in Milan to decide whether to put the 23 Americans on trial.

He said he had opposed the proposal to kidnap the imam, but was overruled.

Italy had previously said Lady was the only one of the 23 Americans that could be extradited, given the length of his sentence.

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