U.S. envoy informed Germany of case in 2004

December 08, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- Germany's former interior minister was told by a U.S. diplomat in 2004 that the CIA might have mistakenly abducted and detained a German citizen suspected of being linked to al-Qaida, the German government announced yesterday.

The minister, Otto Schily, was informed in May 2004 by then U.S. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats that Khaled al-Masri, a car dealer of Lebanese descent, claimed that he had been in U.S. custody for five months, the Interior Ministry statement said. In an interview with a German weekly to be published today, Schily indicated that he was visited by Coats after al-Masri had been released. Schily told Die Zeit that he asked the United States for an explanation, but "unfortunately this did not happen in an adequate manner."

In its statement, the Interior Ministry said: "Schily assured Coats the information would remain strictly confidential."

What Schily knew about the al-Masri case has been at the center of a political debate about whether the former government of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was aware of secret U.S. detention centers in Europe and the use of CIA planes to transport suspected militants through German air space.

Schroeder's liberal-leaning government was often critical of Bush administration policies, and Schily denied knowledge of CIA activities regarding prisoners. But the new coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to find out why CIA-chartered planes made what the German government said this week was more than 430 overflights and stopovers in Germany, including landings at Ramstein Air Base.

The nation's opposition liberal parties have called for a debate in Parliament next week on the matter. Merkel has said that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was Schroeder's chief of staff for six years, will answer questions before a special government panel about his knowledge of alleged secret prisons and CIA flights.

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