Germans Drop Bid for Extraditions In CIA Case

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, September 24, 2007

BERLIN, Sept. 23 -- German authorities confirmed Sunday that they have dropped their efforts to seek the extradition of 13 CIA operatives charged in the kidnapping of a German citizen in the Balkans four years ago.

German Justice Ministry officials said they would not formally press the U.S. government to hand over the agents after U.S. officials made clear in recent weeks that they would not cooperate. The German officials spoke on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.

A court in Munich issued arrest warrants for the CIA operatives in January after prosecutors said they were wanted on suspicion of kidnapping and inflicting bodily harm on Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent. The warrants remain in effect despite Germany's decision not to seek extradition; the agents could still face arrest if they travel to Germany or other countries in the European Union.

Masri has said he was detained by Macedonian police on Dec. 31, 2003, and handed over to the CIA a few weeks later. He said he was taken to a secret CIA-run prison in Afghanistan and physically abused before he was flown back to the Balkans without explanation in May 2004 and dumped on a hillside in Albania.

German officials said they were later informed privately by their U.S. counterparts that Masri was detained in a case of mistaken identity, apparently confused with a terrorism suspect of a similar name. U.S. officials have not publicly admitted any guilt or responsibility in the case.

Masri sued the CIA, but his complaint was dismissed last year on grounds that it could harm national security by revealing sensitive information about counterterrorism operations.

In May, he was committed to a psychiatric institution after he was arrested in the southern German city of Neu-Ulm on suspicion of arson. His attorney blamed his troubles on the CIA, saying the kidnapping and detention had left Masri a "psychological wreck."

Officials in Germany's Justice and Interior ministries had been divided over how aggressively to push for the arrest of the accused CIA operatives. Adding to the complexity of the case was the fact that prosecutors acknowledged that they did not know the true identities of most of the undercover agents.

Prosecutors in Munich had asked the German federal government to forward an extradition request to the U.S. Justice Department. In a compromise, German officials sent an informal inquiry to Washington last month. When U.S. officials responded that they would not cooperate, German authorities agreed to drop the matter.

Some German security officials had opposed the extradition request, arguing that it could undermine U.S.-German cooperation against terrorism.

Those concerns were underscored by the arrests this month of a suspected cell of Islamic radicals accused of plotting bomb attacks against Americans in Germany. The investigation in that case began in late 2006 after U.S. intelligence officials intercepted communications among the cell members and tipped off German security authorities.

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