By ELISABETH MALKIN
The arrest was confirmed Thursday by diplomatic officials in Italy, who said that the agent, Robert Seldon Lady, was detained on the border between Costa Rica and Panama, after Panama acted on a request by Interpol for his arrest. Panamanian and American officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The 2003 abduction of the Egyptian-born cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, was emblematic in the debate over the American intelligence practice of “extraordinary rendition,” in which people suspected of being Islamic terrorists were abducted and then turned over for questioning in other countries where torture is often common.
The Obama administration did not end the practice, began under the Clinton administration in the 1990s and accelerated under the Bush administration after Sept. 11, 2001, although it placed conditions on it intended to prevent detainees from being subject to torture. Mr. Nasr’s abductors flew him first to Germany and then to Egypt, where he vanished. He was eventually released after four years and said that he had been tortured.
Mr. Lady was the C.I.A. station chief in Milan when the abduction occurred. In 2009, a Milan judge convicted Mr. Lady and 22 other American intelligence officials in absentia of the kidnapping.
The convictions were the first in an extraordinary rendition case. Three other former C.I.A. agents, including the former Rome station chief at the time of the abduction, were convicted in February. The same month, the court convicted five former Italian intelligence officials, including Nicolò Pollari, Italy’s former military intelligence chief, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the abduction.
Mr. Lady, 59, was arrested on an international warrant issued by Italy last December, after the highest appeals court confirmed his nine-year sentence. He had disappeared from Italy shortly after the investigation began.
It was unclear whether Italy would request Mr. Lady’s extradition, since it has no extradition treaty with Panama. Panama could choose to send Mr. Lady to Italy, officials in Italy said. An Italian Justice Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment. A few months before his 2009 conviction, Mr. Lady told the Italian newspaper Il Giornale: “Of course it was an illegal operation. But that’s our job. We’re at war against terrorism.”
Rachel Donadio contributed reporting from Rome, and Karla Zabludovsky from Mexico City.