German court orders arrest of Masri kidnappers

news4.jpgBERLIN (Reuters) — A court in Germany has ordered the arrest of 13 people suspected of being involved in the abduction of a German national who says he was kidnapped and tortured by the CIA, state prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Prosecutors in Munich said, based on their findings, “the particulars of the suspects listed in the arrest warrants suggest these could be cover identities of CIA agents”.

They said a district court in Munich had issued warrants for the arrest of the 13 on suspicion of abducting, falsely imprisoning and causing grievous bodily harm to Khaled Masri, a German of Lebanese descent.

Prosecutors did not give the nationalities of the suspects, although according to German media reports, most of them are resident in the United States.

Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, said the issuing of the arrest warrants was the first sign that German authorities were now prepared to back his client against the CIA. “These are massive crimes that have been committed against Khaled Masri,” he told Reuters. “German authorities are following up these crimes against a German subject and are looking to call those responsible to account.”  Masri was arrested in Macedonia at the end of 2003 and says he was handed over to the CIA, who flew him to Afghanistan and wrongly held him until his release in late May 2004.

His case has focused media scrutiny in Europe about secret transfers of terrorism suspects by US intelligence agencies, known as renditions. These have caused tensions both within Germany and between Berlin and Washington.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been under pressure to explain his role in the detention of a German-born Turk in Guantanamo Bay prison camp while he served as chief of staff to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The man, Murat Kurnaz, was released last summer without charge after being held nearly five years. Steinmeier has been accused of trying to hinder his release.

German state television NDR said the 13 suspects in the Masri case were all employed by the CIA but that US authorities had so far refused to assist German investigators. German arrest warrants are not valid in the United States. A government spokeswoman said it was up to Munich prosecutors to push the investigation forward, and noted bilateral agreements between the United States and Germany did not oblige either side to extradite their own citizens. Munich prosecutors said the suspects had been identified on the basis of a list compiled with the aid of Spanish authorities. The list purported to detail those who were on board the plane Masri said took him to Afghanistan.

In a separate development, Spanish High Court Judge Ismael Moreno ordered Spain’s state intelligence agency to declassify any documents it has about secret CIA flights shuttling terrorism suspects, court officials said on Wednesday. A Council of Europe investigator last year said Spain might have acted in “collusion, active or passive,” with secret detentions and unlawful inter-state transfers.

German prosecutors said additional information about the identities of the suspects was provided by prosecutors in Milan and Council of Europe investigator Dick Marty.

“[The suspects] are people who in part were part of the plane’s crew, and in part, those who were part of the so-called rendition team —that is, the kidnapping team,” state prosecutor August Stern told Reuters Television.

Further investigations would concentrate on establishing the real identities of the suspects, prosecutors added. NDR said the 13 suspects listed in the Munich arrest warrant were CIA employees. It published 13 names it said were on the warrant, noting they were largely cover names and that a number appeared on the document with multiple spellings.

NDR added that it also knew some of their real names.

Most of the suspects live in North Carolina, NDR said.

The CIA declined to comment on the case.  

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