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Khaled Al-Masri Accused of Assault; German Journalists Investigated in Masri 'Leak'

Monday, Feb. 12, 2007

"Munich to US: 'Don't Send Your CIA Thugs out into Europe's Streets'". Thus ran the triumphant headline on the Spiegel Online's English-language site a day after it became know that the Munich Public Prosecutor's Office had issued arrest warrants for 13 suspected CIA employees presumed to have participated in the abduction of German citizen Khaled Al-Masri in early 2004. Just one day later, however, the headline had acquired a certain unintended irony as reports emerged that Masri himself had beaten up a social worker in his hometown of Neu-Ulm, leaving the man hospitalized for three days. The assault occurred on Monday, Jan. 29. According to a Feb. 2 report in the Südwest Presse newspaper, citing the local Neu-Ulm prosecutor's office: "Masri is supposed to have pulled the man by the hair and thrown him against a wall. Then he threw a table at him, punched him in the face and stomped on him."

The victim of the assault is the project manager of a worker retraining program in which Masri, who has long been unemployed, was ordered to take part by the local employment agency. According to the Südwest Presse report, Masri, however, appears to have not taken the order very seriously, frequently missing the training sessions without credible excuses. On one absence form, he is supposed, for example, simply to have written: "Blondy! Big Hurry!" It was when summoned to the project manager's office to explain his absences that Masri is reported to have "flipped out." Masri's attorney, Manfred Gnjidic, did not deny the episode. Instead, he told the German wire service DPA that his client was "terribly sorry," attributing Masri's behavior to the "deep trauma" he had undergone -- i.e. presumably at the hands of the CIA.

Nonetheless, this appears not to have been the first such episode involving Masri. Another local paper, the Neu Ulmer Zeitung, reported Feb. 2: "Several years ago, Masri had already had problems with the German courts. At the time, he got into an argument with an employee in the local welfare office. During the episode, he is supposed to have "cleared away" a desk and forced the employee into a corner. Then, he is supposed to have thrown a chair at him."

Masri's situation of chronic unemployment is, incidentally, a detail that has received little attention in the English-language media or has even been spun into yet another consequence of his "trauma." Masri was, however, unemployed already before he went missing in Macedonia in late 2003, early 2004: a fact that has led some in Germany -- though apparently not the Munich Public Prosecutor's Office -- to question the veracity of his story. According to his well-known account, Masri, following a quarrel with his wife, is supposed, on the spur of the moment, to have decided to spend New Years in the strife-ridden Balkan country. Just how an unemployed person -- and one with a wife and four children no less -- was able to afford acting on such a whim is not obvious. Adding to the mystery, Masri is reported to have been carrying several thousand euros in cash when he was picked up by Macedonian authorities at the Serbian-Macedonian border. (For further anomalies in Masri's account of his trip to Macedonia, see my earlier WPR report "The CIA Rendition Controversy: Is Khaled Al-Masri Lying?".)

In a less spectacular, but arguably more significant development in the Masri case on the same day (Feb. 2), the Hamburg Public Prosecutors Office confirmed that it was investigating four journalists -- one from the Financial Times Deutschland and three from the weekly Stern -- suspected of "aiding and abetting in the betrayal of state secrets": namely, pertaining to Khaled Al-Masri. As touched upon in my previous WPR report on Masri, in September the two publications, citing a confidential memorandum of Germany's Federal Office for Criminal Investigations (BKA), revealed that Masri had been "known as an adherent of a fundamentalist line in Islam and a proponent of military jihad" since "at the latest October 2003." October 2003 was three months before Masri was seized by the Macedonian border police and allegedly turned over to American agents.

The Stern article reported that Masri had been under "intensive" police surveillance at least since 2002. The surveillance, moreover, resumed upon his return to Germany in mid-2004. Thus, the Financial Times Deutschland cites the BKA-memorandum to the effect that Masri "maintains numerous contacts to persons considered dangerous [Gefährdern] and accused suspects [Beschuldigten] in the domain of Islamist terrorism." Among these "persons considered dangerous and accused suspects," the BKA undoubtedly had in mind Reda Seyam: a self-avowed friend of Masri and suspected al-Qaida operative who has been connected both to the 2002 Bali bombings and to atrocities committed by foreign Mujahideen during the Bosnian Civil War in the early 1990s. (For extensive details on Seyam, see my compendium of publicly-available evidence linking Masri to extremist milieus here.) Note that that Hamburg Public Prosecutor's announcement tacitly confirms the accuracy of the Financial Times Deutschland and Stern reports.

The BKA memo was included as part of a report on German intelligence activities in connection with the Iraq War and counter-terrorism that had been prepared by the German government and presented to a parliamentary oversight committee in February 2006. Only a small portion of the contents -- in the ironic assessment of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Feb. 25, 2006), amounting to "a more or less successful summary of press clippings and government statements" -- was made public. The revelations concerning German authorities' own assessment of Masri's Jihadist convictions and ties to Islamic terror milieus obviously cast America's alleged "rendering" of Masri in an entirely different light than the conventional media accounts of the "innocent man" victimized by CIA "thugs."

In light of the enormous damage that the Masri story has done to America's ability to pursue counter-terrorism operations, the fact that Germany would suppress such information -- treating it as a "state secret" and threatening to prosecute not only officials who "leak" it, but even journalists who report such leaks -- should give serious cause to doubt that Germany is America's ally in the "war on terror." Needless to say, that a German prosecutor would issue arrest warrants for Americans allegedly involved in the Masri rendition operation, while knowing that German police themselves considered him "a proponent of military Jihad," makes these doubts all the more serious. That a prosecutor would do so, while major terror suspects like Masri's "friend" Reda Seyam or Mamoun Darkazanli are at liberty in Germany and protected from extradition, converts them, finally, into the virtual certitude that Germany is indeed not an ally in this war.

The case of the four journalists, incidentally, does not represent the first time that an investigation on suspicion of "betrayal of state secrets" has been opened against German journalists writing on terror-related topics. For example, Udo Ulfkotte, author of a ground-breaking 2002 study on Islamic extremist networks in Germany titled "The War in Our Cities" [Der Krieg in unseren Städten], has long been the object of a similar investigation. (For Ulfkotte's own account, see his article "The World: Upside-Down.") It is also worth noting in this connection that the New York Times has likewise claimed to have obtained -- and in ultra-conspiratorial fashion no less -- a copy of the classified version of the German parliamentary intelligence report and to have revealed some of its contents. Nonetheless, no investigation is known to have been opened against the Times bureau in Berlin. The Times did not make any mention of the Masri revelations, limiting itself to "leaks" that will in fact have been beneficial to Germany's image in the United States. This suggests either that the German "state secrets" investigations against journalists are politically motivated or indeed that the document "obtained" by the New York Times was a fake. (On the Times episode, see my "Selective 'Revelations': The NYTimes and the 'BND Affair'.")

According to the conventional narrative of the Masri saga, Masri's name is spelled "El-Masri," with an "E," and he is supposed to have been confused by American authorities for a Khaled "Al-Masri"--- with an "A" -- whose name appears in the American 9/11 Commission Report as a key contact of 9/11 plotters Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh and Marwan Al-Shehhi. That this story would be so often repeated -- with the overwhelming majority of news organizations obediently spelling Masri's name "El-Masri" in deference to it -- is itself a gauge of how remarkably unserious and/or naïve the coverage of the Masri case in the major media has been. "El" and "Al" are just alternate transliterations of the Arabic definite article. "El-Masri" and "Al-Masri" are thus just alternate transliterations of the same Arabic name (which means "The Egyptian").

In light of the content of the leaked BKA memorandum, the question obviously arises: Is Khaled Al-Masri the same man as the Khaled Al-Masri named in the 9/11 Commission Report, after all? Yet another piece of apparently leaked BKA data suggests that the answer is "yes." An Oct. 28, 2006, report in the Spiegel -- which, however, the Spiegel did not translate for its English-language site -- cites the testimony of a German police informant who already on Sept. 26, 2001, described Masri as a "follower of Bin Laden." According to the Spiegel, the informant's report is contained in the BKA files on the 9/11 plot. The informant, moreover, is supposed to have suggested that Masri had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, quoting him as having said before 9/11 that one would "be hearing something soon" and that one "must inflict as much pain on the Americans as they would inflict on people of the Islamic faith." The Khaled Al-Masri named in the 9/11 Commission Report is supposed to have put Bin Al-Shibh and Al-Shehhi in contact with Bin Laden lieutenant Mamdouh Mahmud Salim. Salim would in turn organize the trips of Bin Al-Shibh, Al-Shehhi, and their co-conspirators Ziad Jarrah and Mohammed Atta, to an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic relations. His work has appeared in English, French and German in publications such as Policy Review, The Claremont Review of Books, The New York Sun, Les Temps Modernes, Le Figaro and Merkur.