US rendition victim gets suspended sentence

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A Lebanese-born German who was held by the CIA in Afghanistan was given a suspended sentence for arson and other crimes committed after his return to Germany.

11 December 2007

Memmingen, Germany (dpa) - Khaled el-Masri, whose capture in 2003 by CIA agents upset US- German relations, admitted setting fire to a store, assault and breach of the peace at the start of his trial on Monday.

The court in southern city of Memmingen handed down a two-year suspended sentence after el-Masri claimed his actions were in part due to the belated result of his abduction to Afghanistan and mental distress suffered after his return to Germany.

The sentence was the same as that demanded by the prosecution, but four months less than what the defence asked for. The defence argued that he was not fully accountable for his actions.

The court also ordered el-Masri, a father of six, to undergo psychiatric counselling.

El-Masri, 44, was charged with setting fire to three jerry-cans of petrol and causing 300,000 euros (440,000 dollars) worth of damage to a cash-and-carry store in Neu-Ulm in Bavaria state in May after an argument about a purchase.

He is also convicted of insulting staff and assaulting a supervisor who challenged him about his absenteeism at the firm where he was employed in January.

At Monday's hearing el-Masri's lawyer described how his client was picked up by CIA agents in Macedonia on December 31, 2003, apparently because his name was identical to that of a wanted terrorism suspect.

He was then taken to Afghanistan in a practice known as "extraordinary rendition" and questioned for six months before being flown back to Europe and dumped in a forest in Albania when the US realized they had the wrong man.

One his return to Germany he was not given any support and denied access to therapy, he said. He still felt persecuted and thought the intelligence services were following him.

"I was in a state of stress at the time and did not feel safe," his lawyer quoted him as saying in explanation of his client's violent behaviour.

Passing sentence, the court said it had taken into account el-Masri's admission of guilt, the fact that he had apologized to his victims and the traumatic effects of his abduction to Afghanistan.

Before his abduction he had lived 20 years in Germany and had never been in trouble with the authorities, the court said. But the feeling that he had been wronged did not give him the right to act unjustly himself, the court added.

Washington was upset when German prosecutors posted international arrest warrants for 13 US citizens believed to be agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency on suspicion of involvement in the abduction of el-Masri.


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