Jeffrey Fleishman and John Goetz in Berlin
February 1, 2007
GERMAN police have recommended the arrest of 13 US intelligence agents over the kidnapping, beating and secret detention of a German citizen suspected of being a terrorist.
The agents were part of a CIA team that transported alleged terrorists to interrogation camps around the world. Police say the group handcuffed and blindfolded Khaled Masri, a German of Lebanese descent, and flew him from Macedonia to Afghanistan in January 2004. Mr Masri was never charged with a crime, and was released five months later.
The case has strained US-German relations, prompting a German parliamentary investigation into allegations that its own intelligence agents were involved in the abduction.
Meanwhile, an Italian court is deciding whether to try 26 Americans and nine Italians in connection with the 2003 abduction of a radical Egyptian cleric, Abu Omar. The Italian Government may demand the extradition of the accused Americans, who include the former CIA station chief in Milan, where Mr Omar was snatched from a footpath.
Both cases have outraged European lawmakers and highlight the legal and human rights questions that divide the US and Europe on counterterrorism. However, there are also indications that some European governments might have been complicit in the CIA program.
Legal documents, credit card receipts and hotel records show that those allegedly involved in Mr Masri's abduction stayed at a luxurious resort on the Spanish island of Majorca before flying to Skopje, Macedonia, on January 23, 2004.
Three weeks earlier Mr Masri had been pulled off a bus while crossing the Serbian border into Macedonia. He said Macedonian officials seized him and drove him to a hotel in Skopje, where he was interrogated for days and accused of being an extremist.
One night, he said, he was blindfolded and taken to an airport. "I was led into a room. The door closed behind me and I was beaten from all sides for about one minute. They bent my arms to my back and cut off my clothes … I saw seven to eight men all dressed in black and wearing masks. I tried to keep my underpants on but they ripped them off. They put me in diapers and a dark blue sweatsuit with the legs and sleeves cut out."
Aviation records show that a jet registered to a company with links to the CIA landed at Skopje airport at 8.51pm on January 23, 2004. The plane left Skopje hours later, at 2.30am, flying to Iraq, then Afghanistan. Mr Masri said he was drugged for the flight and remembers waking up in "a small, dirty cell".
He said he was interrogated in cycles by Americans, particularly over his attendance at a mosque frequented by radicals in Ulm, Germany. Mr Masri said he went on a hunger strike for 37 days until he was force-fed. He was released in the mountains of Albania five months after he disappeared.