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Europeans Investigate CIA Role in Abductions

Shaari, the director of the Islamic cultural center in Milan, said some Muslims are worried they could be kidnapped, too.

"If they can take Abu Omar, then they can take anyone," he said. "This is an extremely dangerous precedent, both for the Muslim community and for Italy, as a democratic and free state."

This Gulfstream jet was ordered by a firm that appeared to be a front company for the CIA, according to records. (Special To The Washington Post)

European Probes

Three official investigations have been initiated into renditions believed to have taken place in Western Europe.


February 2003

A radical Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar was kidnapped in Milan, officials say. Italian investigators are pursuing the theory that covert agents -- possibly from the United States, Italy or Egypt -- were behind the abduction.


December 2003

A 41-year-old resident of Ulm, Germany, Khaled Masri, was detained during a vacation at the Macedonian border. He claims that he was flown to Kabul in January 2004, where he was held as a suspected terrorist, and that his captors spoke English with an American accent.


December 2001

A parliamentary investigation has found that CIA agents wearing hoods orchestrated the seizure of two Egyptian nationals who were flown on a U.S.-registered airplane to Cairo. The men claim they were tortured in prison there.

_____More From The Post_____
Gonzales Defends Transfer of Detainees (The Washington Post, Mar 8, 2005)
Democrats Seek Probes on CIA Interrogations (The Washington Post, Mar 2, 2005)
Terror Suspect Alleges Torture (The Washington Post, Jan 6, 2005)
Jet Is an Open Secret in Terror War (The Washington Post, Dec 27, 2004)

Claims Corroborated

In late December 2003, Khaled Masri got into a bitter argument with his wife in their home town of Ulm, Germany. They agreed he should get away for a few days, so he bought a bus ticket for Skopje, Macedonia.

At the Macedonian border on New Year's Eve, immigration officials took a close look at his passport and detained him, without explanation. Other agents later interrogated him and pressed him to admit he was a member of al Qaeda, according to accounts Masri gave his attorney and German prosecutors.

Masri protested his innocence, but was kept under guard in Macedonia for three weeks. He said that one day in late January 2004, he was beaten, stripped, shackled and put on a plane that took him to Afghanistan. There, he was kept in a cell under dismal conditions, deprived of water and repeatedly interrogated. Only after going on a hunger strike, he said, did his captors relent; he was flown back to the Balkans in May 2004.

He said he was released near an Albanian border checkpoint, where guards returned his passport and cash. By the time he made it home, even his wife was reluctant to believe his story, thinking he had left her for another woman, according to his attorney.

German police have questioned Masri several times and said they had found his version of events consistent and believable. Stamps in his passport show he entered Macedonia and left Albania on the dates he described. The bus driver on the route to Skopje confirmed to investigators that Masri had been on board and was taken away by border guards.

Investigators have conducted a chemical radioisotope analysis of Masri's hair. They said the findings backed up his story that he was malnourished while in captivity.

Flight logs also support Masri's claim that he was flown out of Macedonia by U.S. secret agents. Aviation records show a U.S.-registered Boeing jet arrived in Skopje at 9 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2004, and departed about six hours later. Masri had provided German investigators with the same time and date.

The flight plan shows the aircraft was scheduled to go to Kabul, but later amended its route to include a stopover in Baghdad. The existence of the flight logs was first reported by Frontal 21, a news show on the German television network ZDF. A copy of the logs was obtained by The Washington Post.

The jet, with tail number N313P, was registered at the time to a U.S. firm, Premier Executive Transport Services Inc., that records suggest is a CIA front company. The same firm owned another aircraft, a Gulfstream jet, that has been used in other rendition cases, including the one in Sweden.

Masri's attorney and investigators say they think he was abducted because his name is similar to that of an al Qaeda suspect, Khalid Masri, who allegedly played a crucial role in persuading the members of the Hamburg cell who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks to go to Afghanistan, where they first met Osama bin Laden.

Manfred Gnjidic, the lawyer, says he has asked the U.S. Embassy in Berlin for an explanation of what happened, but has received no response.

"We are quite sure that they were behind this," said Gnjidic. "We are looking for punishment and to hold someone accountable."

Robert Wood, an embassy spokesman, declined to answer specific questions about the case. "But our policy is pretty clear," he said. "The United States does not transfer detainees to countries where we believe it is more likely than not that they will be tortured."

Macedonian officials also had little to say. "Our answer is, no comment," said Goran Pavlovski, spokesman for the Macedonian Interior Ministry. "If the Germans want information, they should ask us about it, and we will respond."

Under German law, prosecutors have the authority to investigate any crime committed against a German citizen, even in foreign lands.

Hofmann, the Munich prosecutor, acknowledged that he has limited powers to investigate cases outside Germany. But he said he was preparing a formal request for legal help from the Macedonian government, as well as from Albanian and Afghan officials.

"I'm confident that other information will be forthcoming," he said. "This case has a considerable political meaning. There's a certain amount of pressure on everyone involved."

Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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