Germans investigate CIA kidnap of innocent citizen

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The investigation centres on 42-year-old Khaled al-Masri, a German of Leba-nese descent who was kidnapped in Macedonia by the CIA and flown to an American-run prison in Kabul where he was detained for five months and repeatedly beaten in early 2004.

The German government, which strongly opposed the US invasion of Iraq, has denied complicity in the kidnapping. The affair caused outrage in Germany last year and prompted Chancellor Angela Merkel to demand an explanation from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visited Berlin in December.

But Munich state prosecutors confirmed they were investigating Mr Masri's allegation that a German agent interrogated him at the US prison in Kabul. "The investigation is continuing and we are following up all leads," Martin Hoffmann, a prosecutors' spokesman, said yesterday.

Their inquiry was given new impetus on Monday after Mr Masri identified a senior German police official he suspected of being his interrogator from a 10-person line-up conducted in the presence of his lawyer at a police station in his home town of Neu-Ulm in southern Germany. Mr Masri said he was "90 per cent sure" that the man he picked out of the identification parade was a mysterious German-speaking interrogator, known only as "Sam", who had questioned him three times during his detention in Kabul. "The man was very nervous and could not look me in the eye," Mr Masri said after meeting the man he identified. "The hair is different but the voice sounded very similar."

Germany's Interior Ministry has denied that any member of the country's intelligence services visited Mr Masri while he was held in Afghanistan. Police and state prosecutors were refusing to reveal the true identity of the man he suspected of being "Sam".

However, the New York Times yesterday quoted one of the unidentified man's colleagues as saying that the man often took part in undercover operations and helped with "dirty work" for the German foreign intelligence services.

Manfred Gnjidic, Mr Masri's lawyer, said it was extraordinary no one in the German government had tried to interview his client about his ordeal. "Germany stood by like a little schoolboy watching what was going on with my client and doing nothing," he claimed.

The Munich state prosecutors said yesterday that they were also trying to determine whether the German embassy in Macedonia had been informed of Mr Masri's abduction and dispatched an agent to Kabul to question him. Germany has insisted that it knew nothing of the abduction until the American ambassador informed its officials shortly before his release in May 2004.

German MPs were due to examine details of a government report on the affair today. Members of the group said that they had not been able to obtain any information from what was described as "an ominous German-speaking US secret service worker who is said to have taken part in Masri's interrogation in Afghanistan".

But the government report admitted that German Federal Criminal Bureau agents had previously interrogated another US renditions victim, the Syrian-born German terrorist suspect Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who was kidnapped by the CIA in Morocco in 2001 and flown to a prison in Syria where he has been held ever since.

German agents flew to Damascus in 2002 and interrogated Mr Zammar, who is being held in a secret police jail renowned for torture. The government report said that the agents had "crossed a red line" and that Germany's participation in foreign interrogations should cease.