Last Friday, Khaled Al-Masri, aka. Khaled El-Masri, was arrested after assaulting the mayor of the Germany city of Neu-Ulm. A German citizen of Lebanese origin, Masri gained notoriety as the most visible “victim” of America’s program of “extraordinary renditions.” While on a trip to the Balkans in early 2004, he is alleged to have been illegally seized by the CIA and rendered to Afghanistan, before being released in Albania six months later.
According to German press reports, Masri attacked Mayor Gerold Noerenberg in the latter’s office, punching him and throwing a chair at him. The mayor is reported to have suffered cuts and bruises and a broken finger in the attack. Following one day of sick leave, he returned to work on Tuesday, his left hand fully bandaged except for the thumb and index finger. (See photo here.) Masri is a resident of a suburb of Neu-Ulm. The city has come to be known as perhaps the most important hub of jihadist activism in Germany. (See “Southern German Towns Become Hub of Jihadism”.)
The attack on Noerenberg is just the latest in a series of violent crimes committed by Masri in Germany in recent years. He has thus far served no jail time for these crimes. In January 2007, the unemployed Masri assaulted an instructor in a worker-retraining program, leaving the victim hospitalized for three days. According to information from the Neu-Ulm District Attorney’s Office that has been reported in the local media, 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.” (For source and further details, see here.)
In May of the same year, Masri drove his car through the front door of a local supermarket and then set the building on fire, causing a reported €500,000 ($735,000) in damages. As Masri’s lawyer has admitted, the immediate motive for the attack was his client’s dissatisfaction about a defective iPod. Just last month, as reported in the local Neu-Ulmer Zeitung, Masri sent a death threat to the owner of a local company after two workers spoke to one of his six children.
Masri’s outbursts of violence appear, moreover, to have preceded his alleged “rendering” by the CIA. Thus, according to a February 3, 2007, report in the Neu-Ulmer Zeitung, Masri had a first run-in with the law in Germany “some years” earlier, at which time he assaulted a worker in a welfare office. In this incident as well, he is reported to have thrown a chair at the victim.
The report of the earlier episode is of particular interest, since the German news media has largely spun Masri’s violent behavior as somehow a consequence of alleged abuse at the hands of the CIA. This is in keeping with the defense strategy of Masri’s lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, and indeed with the rulings of German judicial authorities. Thus, in December 2007, a German court in Memmingen declined to send Masri to jail, sentencing him merely to two years probation for both the arson attack and the assault on the instructor. Treating his alleged detention by the CIA as a mitigating factor, the court also required Masri to undergo therapy sessions, whereby he was supposed to “work through his experiences in the CIA-prison in Afghanistan.” (The quote comes from the Augsburger Allgemeine Zeitung citing Memmingen District Attorney Renate Thanner.)
Almost completely absent from the German reports, on the other hand, is the abundant evidence linking Masri to Islamic extremist circles that appeared in the German news media prior to 2007. This evidence includes the bombshell September 2006 revelation that Germany’s own Federal Office of Criminal Investigations (BKA) had Masri under surveillance long before his disappearance in January 2004 and had identified him as “an adherent of a fundamentalist line in Islam and a proponent of military jihad.” According to the leaked BKA memorandum that formed the basis of the reports, Masri had extensive contacts to “accused suspects in the domain of Islamic terrorism.” Among others, the BKA undoubtedly had Reda Seyam in mind. Both Masri and Seyam have acknowledged their “friendship.” Seyam is widely believed by intelligence agencies to have financed the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed over 200 people.
(Michael von Wedel, the BKA counter-terrorism agent who was assigned the German investigation of Seyam, has recently confirmed Seyam’s role in the Bali bombings in a memoir of his BKA career. See my review in Policy Review magazine here.)
In February 2007, as discussed in my contemporary report on World Politics Review, the Hamburg District Attorney’s Office confirmed that it had opened investigations against four German journalists involved in revealing the contents of Masri’s BKA dossier. The four were said to be suspected of “aiding and abetting in the betrayal of state secrets” — a charge that tacitly confirmed the accuracy of their reports. Since that time, the issue of Masri’s jihadist connections has virtually disappeared from German news coverage.
Little is yet known about the motives of Masri’s attack on Neu-Ulm mayor Gerold Noerenberg. Some days before the incident, Noerenberg received what has been described as a “confused” [wirren] letter from Masri. In the letter, Masri warned Noerenberg that he was “dead, but not yet buried” (source: Neu-Ulmer Zeitung). Bizarrely, Noerenberg has said that he did not consider the remark to be a “direct threat.” The rest of the contents of the letter have not been made public.
(Note: According to the conventional narrative of the Masri rendition 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” whose name appears in the 9/11 Commission Report. In fact, however, “El-Masri” and “Al-Masri” are just alternate transliterations of the same Arabic name.)