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Portugal frees ex-CIA agent over imam kidnapping

Portugal on Wednesday freed a former CIA agent found guilty in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian imam in Italy, a day after Italy’s president granted her a partial pardon.

Sabrina de Sousa, 60, was to be extradited to Italy in the coming days to face justice over the abduction of radical preacher Abu Omar in Milan, after she was arrested in Portugal last week.

She had been tried in absentia along with 22 others in what were the first legal convictions in the world against people involved in the CIA’s extraordinary renditions programme of transferring prisoners to other countries, which followed the September 11, 2001 attacks.

On Tuesday, Italian President Sergio Mattarella granted her “a partial pardon of one year’s imprisonment” while also allowing a lenient form of sentencing that does not necessarily need to be served behind bars.

But on Wednesday morning she was “set free” after being driven to the Lisbon Portela airport with a view to extradition, her attorney, Manuel de Magalhaes e Silva, said.

“She is already home” in Lisbon, de Magalhaes e Silva said, adding that Milan prosecutor Filippo Lamanna had rescinded his client’s standing European arrest warrant.

“Her prison sentence can be substituted for general community service, and Sabrina de Sousa could decide whether she wants to perform it in Portugal or in Italy,” the lawyer said.

Omar was kidnapped from a Milan street on February 17, 2003 in an operation allegedly led jointly by the CIA and the Italian intelligence services.

He was then transferred to Egypt where his lawyers say he was tortured, in a case that highlighted the controversial secret renditions of suspected radicals by the United States and its allies.

De Sousa, who holds dual American and Portuguese nationality, has said she was an interpreter for the CIA team that organised Omar’s abduction but denies any direct role in the operation.

On Tuesday, the Italian presidency said it had “taken into account the attitude of the convicted, the fact that the United States has stopped the practice of extraordinary rendition, and the need to rebalance the sentence with those of other people convicted for the same offence.”