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Italy Says Ex-CIA Chief in Milan Arrested in Panama

Italian judge Sergio Silocchi is seen reading the sentence at an appeals trial in the case of former Milan CIA station chief Robert Seldon Lady and other CIA agents at a Milan court in this December 15, 2010, file photo.
Italy says a former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Milan, convicted in absentia for the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian terror suspect, has been detained in Panama.

The Italian Justice Ministry offered few details on the reported arrest of Robert Seldon Lady, who faces a nine-year prison term in Italy. But Italian news agencies quote police in Panama as saying Lady was taken into custody near the Panama-Costa Rica border. Italy has two months to request his extradition.

The U.S. government had not responded to the reports by late Thursday, and Panama Security Minister Jose Raul Molino told the Associated Press in Panama City that he was not aware of the detention.

Lady and 22 other CIA agents were convicted in absentia in 2009 for the kidnapping of radical cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr, better known as Abu Omar, from a Milan street. The cleric was later transferred to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured for information on his alleged links to terrorist organizations.

Abu Omar, suspected of recruiting militants to fight in Iraq, was released from Egyptian detention in 2007 without having been charged.

The trials of Lady, now retired from the CIA, and two other U.S. agents were the first convictions of U.S. intelligence operatives involved in a procedure known as "extraordinary rendition." Under the procedure, U.S. agents secretly detained terrorism suspects abroad and transferred them to third countries for intensive interrogation.

Three other Americans indicted in the case were granted diplomatic immunity and acquitted in 2009. But earlier this year, a Milan court vacated the acquittals, convicted them in absentia and then sentenced two of them to six-year prison terms and the third to a seven-year term.

An Italian court found Italy's secret services also were complicit in the rendition, and a former Italian intelligence chief was sentenced to 10 years in prison earlier this year. A former deputy received a nine-year sentence, and three other officials got six years each.

Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper says the Italian government authorized an international arrest warrant for Lady in December. But it says warrants were not issued for other CIA operatives convicted in the case because their prison sentences did not meet the minimum for an extradition request.