BUCHAREST, Romania – Romania's president said Friday that Romanian authorities carried out "an unauthorized operation" abroad to capture a fugitive Syrian-Romanian businessman convicted of ordering the kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Iraq.
Omar Hayssam, who was sentenced in absentia in 2007 to 20 years in prison, was handed over to Romania's authorities early Friday and is now in police custody. The kidnapped journalists were freed after 55 days in captivity in 2005.
President Traian Basescu declined to reveal where Hayssam was captured or how he was brought back to Romania, but said: "How can I tell you when Romania carried out an unauthorized operation on the territory of another country?" He did not elaborate, but his comments suggested that Romanian authorities had carried out an unauthorized rendition on the 50-year-old.
Hayssam fled to Syria from Romania in 2006. His flight from Romania triggered resignations at a top level. The chiefs of the intelligence services and the general prosecutor were forced to resign amid allegations that they had facilitated his flight.
In an interview two years ago, Basescu said Romania knew exactly where Hayssam was. Hayssam had lived in Romania, where he obtained citizenship, for 24 years before fleeing.
A spokesman for Romania's president earlier refused to say whether authorities in Damascus had turned Hayssam over.