Controversy erupted this week over two high ranking German official's knowledge of the CIA abduction of a German national. Now a report says that German intelligence may have assisted the CIA in their detention.
German intelligence agents gave the United States information about a German national that may have contributed to his detention by the CIA, a newspaper report said here on Friday.
"We may have put the CIA onto Khaled el-Masri because of information we exchanged with US officials," the Berliner Zeitung quoted an unnamed German official as saying.
The case of Masri, who was seized in the Balkans in late 2003 and detained in Afghanistan before being released in 2004, has added to a controversy over secret CIA prisons and prisoner flights through Europe.
"It is remarkable that the Americans, when questioning Masri in Afghanistan, interrogated him on the basis of information obtained from us," the official added.
"There is some indication that something like this happened," said Elmar Thevesen, a German terrorism expert. "We know from Khalid El-Masri that when he was questioned by the CIA that they had very specific information about his hometown Ulm in Germany, about his mosque and about other people he had met in Germany. The big question of course is how could the CIA know about all this. What is also very incriminating is that in his prison cell in Kabul there was one guy who in his view was German and who was talking to him in German. He had the impression that he had been send by German authorities."
The issue could further fuel a lessening of cooperation as security experts say that the CIA prison and flight issue has fueled a sense of betrayal among European intelligence officials.
"There is still interest in ongoing cooperation but only if the suspicion is eliminated that the CIA has betrayed its European partners," Henning Riecke, an expert on transatlantic relations and security policy at German Council on Foreign Relations told DW-World. "Most want to wait until they have a clear picture of what the consequences of cooperation are. That should not include making an arrest and then turning over the suspect to be tortured."
Suspected terrorist links
El-Masri says he was kidnapped and abused.
The official said the exchange of information between German and US agents was motived by suspicions that Masri, while living in Neu-Ulm in southern Germany, was linked to Seyam Reda, a German national of Egyptian origin who is in turn suspected of having ties with Al-Qaeda.
The town of Neu-Ulm is considered to be one of the strongholds of Islamic extremists in Germany.
But the German state prosecutors in Munich, which opened an investigation into the Masri case last year, on Friday said they had "no information indicating that he entertained ties with Islamists of a nature that contravenes the law."
Masri this week filed a landmark lawsuit against the CIA in a US federal court, alleging that he was wrongfully abducted and abused as a prisoner.
Germans asked to keep quiet
The 42-year-old German of Lebanese descent was seized in Macedonia in December 2003 and flown to a prison in Afghanistan for interrogation. He was released five months later, on May 28.
His case has also caused controversy in Germany because of reports that the government was asked by Washington to keep quiet about it. This week, former Interior Minister Otto Schily admitted to being informed by US officials about the matter. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he learned about the case a year ago when he was former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's aide.
Schily told German newspaper Die Zeit that he has pressed the U.S. to explain el-Kasri's kidnapping.
"Unfortunately, this did not happen in an adequate manner," he said.
Rice says mistake comment a misunderstanding.
The matter was raised during a meeting on Tuesday between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was on a four-nation tour of Europe dogged by the secret prisons controversy.
Merkel told the press: "We talked about this one case which, of course, was accepted as a mistake by the US administration. I'm glad that Rice told me that mistakes would be corrected."
Senior US officials later suggested that Merkel had misunderstood Rice, although the secretary of state did not correct the German leader during the press conference.
Merkel has announced that the case would be examined by a German parliamentary committee.