CIA had evidence on al-Masri from German police: report

9th December 2005, Comments 0 comments

9 December 2005, BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is under increasing pressure to present a full account of the abduction by the CIA of a German national following renewed allegations Friday about German intelligence involvement in the affair.

9 December 2005

BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is under increasing pressure to present a full account of the abduction by the CIA of a German national following renewed allegations Friday about German intelligence involvement in the affair.

Berlin said Friday it would not be issuing any new information about the case, involving the Lebanese-born German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, which has already strained Germany's ties to Washington.

Al-Masri, who was arrested in Macedonia in December 2003, claims to have been handed over to the CIA before being flown to Afghanistan for interrogation on suspicion of terrorism.

He returned to Europe five months later after the CIA accepted that he was the wrong man.

However, his case has helped spark a row in Germany about so-called CIA rendition flights to transport terror suspects through German airspace.

Despite calls for Berlin to explain why it had kept the abduction secret for seven months last year, German government spokesman Ulrich Wilhelm insisted Friday the al-Masri case was an intelligence issue and that the government was not required to make such matters public.

But analysts said snowballing revelations about secret CIA flights through German airspace and claims about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe along with the al-Masri abduction could force Berlin to reveal what help it was giving the Americans.

Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier is set to make a statement to parliament next Wednesday on the issue.

Meanwhile, a U.S.-run prison at Camp Bondsteel, near the Kosovo capital Pristina, came under the spotlight Friday, with U.N. ombudsman Marek Nowicki telling the Berliner Zeitung, the United Nations must be allowed to inspect the 300-hectare facility.

In Munich, southern Germany, where separate prosecutors are investigating both the abduction of al-Masri and Islamist activities in the provincial city of Neu-Ulm, a prosecutor confirmed that al-Masri had never been suspected of subversion.

"We never categorized him as being under suspicion during our inquiries in Neu-Ulm," said senior prosecutor August Stern. "There is no evidence that he had any contacts with Islamists of any relevance to a criminal inquiry."

Al-Masri this week filed a suit against former CIA Director George Tenet Tuesday, saying he was forcibly abducted.

Previous reports said the United States may have confused al-Masri with someone else, but the Berliner Zeitung quoted Friday security officials as saying the Americans appeared to have had information on him garnered from German police.

Al-Masri worshipped at a mosque in Neu-Ulm that was under the influence of a radical Islamist, Reda Seyam, who is regarded by the United States as dangerous.

"It's rather noticeable that the Americans were questioning al- Masri in Afghanistan partly on the basis of information they got from us," said a security officer quoted by the newspaper.

"So it's possible that we drew CIA attention to al-Masri with information that we exchanged with the U.S. authorities."

*sidebar1*The report said German agencies believed the CIA had not confused al-Masri with anyone else, since the CIA questions dealt specifically with the Islamist movement in Neu-Ulm where al-Masri lived.

Stern said later, "We don't put someone under suspicion just for attending mosque."

His file did not contain anything indicating that information on al-Masri had been passed to the Americans. "We'll have to check on that," he said.

At the same time, a key aide to Merkel suggested she may have to take the witness stand and repeat how Washington had admitted to her that the abduction of al-Masri had been a mistake.

Al-Masri's lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, called this week for Merkel to testify in a criminal inquiry against the abductors.

Political debate in Berlin this week has centred on why the German government remained silent after al-Masri had returned to Germany in May 2004 and revealed his experiences.

Former interior minister Otto Schily has confirmed he was told in May 2004, but the case did not become public until early this year.

DPA

Subject: German news

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