A former CIA officer was jailed this week by Portuguese authorities and expects to be extradited within days to Italy, where she faces four years in prison for her role in the kidnapping of a terrorism suspect in Milan 14 years ago, according to her attorney.
Sabrina De Sousa, 61, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by the Italian judicial system for the February 2003 extraordinary rendition of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar.
So far, none of the Americans have actually served time for their convictions because they had returned to the United States long before Italian courts ruled against them in 2009. But De Sousa, who holds dual American and Portuguese citizenship, moved to Lisbon in April 2015 to live near relatives. She was briefly detained that year in Portugal on a European arrest warrant but released. Since then, she has lived with her husband in Lisbon but has been bracing for Portuguese courts to issue an official decree to ship her to Italy.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Wednesday, her attorney Manuel Magalhaes e Silva said the Portuguese judicial authorities recently handed down that final order, prompting her arrest at her home on Monday night.
“As always, she has a very good temper. Sabrina is a strong woman. She was expecting this. We knew at any time it could happen,” Magalhaes e Silva said.
She is being held at a facility in Porto, the country’s second-largest city. The attorney said De Sousa will probably be flown to Italy within the next “four to six days.”
De Sousa could not be reached immediately. The CIA declined to comment.
But De Sousa’s attorney also said that Portuguese courts agreed to detain and extradite her to Italy on one condition: that she be given a new trial with a chance to present new evidence. He worries that the Italian government will not comply with the stipulation.
“If the Italian authorities don’t comply with these conditions, that’s a violation of the European arrest warrant,” her lawyer said. “It’s a political situation. It depends on the Portuguese government making a complaint, saying Italy is not respecting the rules of the warrant. The intention at this moment of the Italian authorities that there will be no second trial.”
It is unclear what will happen if and when De Sousa lands in Italy. Her Italian attorney, Dario Bolognesi, told The Post that he has already asked Italian justice ministry officials for a pardon. If De Sousa is not pardoned, Bolognesi has asked local authorities that she be required to perform community service rather than serve out a four-year incarceration.
The saga began almost exactly 14 years ago, on Feb. 17, 2003, when two men snatched Abu Omar off the streets of Milan while he was walking to a mosque. He had been deemed a terrorist suspect and was wanted by the CIA. He was flown to Egypt, where he was tortured in a prison but eventually released.
At the time of the kidnapping, De Sousa was registered as a State Department officer at the U.S. Consulate in Milan but technically worked as a CIA officer. She believed she possessed diplomatic protection because she did not serve as an “NOC,” a covert operative with “nonofficial” cover who lacks immunity from a foreign government’s prosecution.
In 2005, Italian prosecutors began investigating the case on the grounds that the operation violated local and international laws for arresting terrorist suspects in Europe. In early 2009, De Sousa resigned from the CIA, and later that year, Italian courts convicted her and two dozen other Americans for the rendition, based largely on emails and cellphone records. The episode embarrassed the agency for poor tradecraft, and it strained relations between the two countries, alarming U.S. officials. They worry De Sousa’s case shows how little diplomatic protection American government employees have while working overseas.
De Sousa has fiercely maintained she did not participate in the rendition and was chaperoning her son’s ski trip that day. She has, however, said that she flew to Italy in 2002 as part of a group of CIA officers who met with their Italian counterparts to discuss the logistics of renditions. De Sousa said she served as an interpreter between the services.
“This has set a terrible precedent,” De Sousa told The Post last year. “This rendition was funded by Congress with approval of senior government officials in the U.S., Italy and Egypt.”