Germany Seeks 13 Suspected CIA Agents
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 8:13 PM
BERLIN -- German prosecutors said Wednesday that they have issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected CIA agents who allegedly abducted a German citizen in an apparent anti-terrorist operation gone wrong, in the latest European legal challenge to U.S. treatment of terror suspects.
The arrest warrants, filed in Munich, represent the second case in which prosecutors have lodged criminal charges against CIA employees involved in counterterrorism operations in Europe.
Italian prosecutors want to question 25 agents and one other American _ all but one believed to be CIA agents _ in the 2003 alleged kidnapping in Milan of Egyptian cleric and terror suspect Osama Moustafa Hassan Nasra. Five Italian intelligence officials also face possible indictment in the case.
European investigators acknowledge that it is highly unlikely the U.S. spies _ most of whom worked undercover or using false identities _ would ever be handed over to face trial. But the prosecutions have strained U.S.-European relations and underscore deep differences over how to fight terrorism.
Munich prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld told The Associated Press that warrants in the latest case were issued in the last few days. He said the unidentified agents were sought on suspicion of wrongfully imprisoning Khaled al-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm.
Al-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, says he was detained in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border and then flown by the CIA to a jail in Afghanistan, where he was abused. He says he was let go in Albania five months later and told he had been seized in a case of mistaken identity.
The case comes at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel is trying to maintain improved relations with the United States, after a chill between the two countries under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder _ a fierce critic of the war in Iraq.
Rights activists have seized on al-Masri's story and other cases to demand that the U.S. stop "extraordinary rendition" _ moving terrorism suspects to third countries where they could face torture.
German opposition parties have accused the government of turning a blind eye to such practices. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier faces questioning in a parliamentary committee over whether the previous German government blocked the release of Murat Kurnaz, a Bremen-born Turk kept at Guantanamo for more than four years. Steinmeier at the time was Schroeder's chief of staff.
Merkel has said the Bush administration acknowledged making a mistake with al-Masri. Germany's government refused to comment on the arrest warrants, as did the CIA. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also declined to comment, saying he did not know enough about the action by German authorities. He also declined comment when asked if he knew whether any of the 13 were U.S. citizens.
NDR television released a list of 11 men and two women reportedly named in the warrants. It said three had been contacted by its reporters and had refused comment.
The prosecutor's office refused to confirm the list, while revealing the suspects' real names weren't known.