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Ex-CIA agent convicted of Italian kidnapping and held in Panama returning to US

Italy CIA Kidnapping_Leff (1).jpg

April 11, 2007 - FILE photo of Egyptian cleric Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, who was allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents off the streets of an Italian city and taken to Egypt where he said he was tortured, talks on his mobile in Cairo, Egypt. Robert Seldon Lady, a former CIA base chief in Italy who was convicted in the 2003 abduction of an Egyptian terror suspect from a street in Milan has been detained in Panama, the Italian justice ministry said Thursday, July 18, 2013. (AP)

A former CIA base chief convicted in the 2003 abduction of a terror suspect from an Italian street is headed back to the U.S. after being arrested in Panama.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Friday that Robert Seldon Lady, the former CIA chief in Milan might already have returned.   

``We understand he is en route or back in the U.S.,” Harf told reporters at a briefing in Washington.  

Lady was detained in Panama after Italy requested his arrest for kidnapping Egyptian Muslim cleric Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasr-- in one of the most notorious episodes of the U.S. program known as extraordinary rendition, according to Italian and Panamanian officials.

After entering Panama, Lady crossed the border into Costa Rica and was sent back to Panama where he was detained Wednesday, according to an Italian official familiar with Italy's investigation of the rendition of cleric Nasr. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the case.

The government of Panama, which maintains one of the region's closest relationships with the U.S., was officially silent on the case. Security Minister Jose Raul Mulino told The Associated Press that he was unaware of Lady's detention and the press office of the National Police — which works with Interpol, the international police agency — said it had no information. The CIA also declined to comment.

Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was hustled into a car in February 2003 on a street in Milan, where he preached, and transferred to U.S. military bases in Italy and Germany before being flown to Egypt. He alleged he was tortured in Egypt before being released.

Italy conducted an aggressive investigation and charged 26 CIA and other U.S. government employees despite objections from Washington. All left Italy before charges were filed in the first trial in the world involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, under which terror suspects were abducted and transferred to third countries where many were subjected to torture.

All the U.S. suspects were eventually convicted but only 59-year-old Lady received a sentence — nine years in prison — that merited an extradition request under Italian legal guidelines. Two former Italian spy chiefs were also convicted this year for their role in the cleric's kidnapping.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.