An American former CIA station chief arrested this week in Panama was thought to be on his way back to the United States last night, putting on hold his possible extradition to Italy to serve a prison sentence for abducting an Egyptian cleric.
Robert Seldon Lady, 59, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to nine years in jail for his involvement in the “extraordinary rendition” of terrorism suspect Abu Omar in Milan in 2003. The cleric was taken to Egypt, where he claims he was tortured.
Lady was convicted in 2009 along with 22 other Americans, none of whom ever appeared in an Italian court. Yet Italian media reports suggest that, of the 23, Italy has only sought the international arrest of Lady, the CIA station chief in Milan at the time of the abduction.
His arrest was announced on Thursday by Italian officials, who said he was detained by Panamanian authorities on the border with Costa Rica. Panama has no extradition treaty with Italy, and last night the state department said he was “either en route or back in the United States.”
The US reportedly suspected Abu Omar, also known as Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, of recruiting radical Muslims in Italy. Two men snatched him from a street in Milan in February 2003, by spraying chemicals in his face and bundling him into a van. Lady allegedly supervised the kidnapping from a café nearby. The cleric, now 50, was moved between US military bases in Europe before being sent to Egypt. His lawyers say he tried to commit suicide three times in prison, but was finally released after four years.
His case marks the first attempt by foreign authorities to prosecute US officials for participation in the practice of extraordinary rendition.