Khaled el-Masri is back in custody. This time, it's not a dark hole in Afghanistan after being picked up by American agents on suspicion of being a terrorist. Rather, it is a psychiatric clinic in the German town of Neu-Ulm where he has been arrested on suspicion of being an arsonist.
The 43-year-old Lebanese-German -- who claims to have been kidnapped by American agents at the end of 2003 and flown to a prison in Afghanistan for torture as part of the extraordinary renditions program -- is suspected of having ignited a blaze early Thursday morning that ultimately did €500,000 ($678,000) in damages. According to police, the door of a wholesale market in Neu-Ulm was broken and a fire was set just inside. El-Masri was picked up not far away.
A judge ordered el-Masri be sent to a psychiatric hospital, according to police inspector Holger Rennebeck in a Thursday statement. There was no reason given for the judge's decision and el-Masri's lawyer could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
El-Masri was picked up on New Year's Eve in 2003 as he tried to enter Macedonia. By his account, he was then flown by US agents to Kabul,where he claims he was tortured and sexually abused during his five months in captivity. In late May, 2004, el-Masri was again put on a plane, flown to Albania and released. His case quickly became one of the primary rallying cries against the US practice of extraordinary rendition and was also examined by a parliamentary committee in the German Bundestag. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the US admitted to her having made a mistake in the case of el-Masri, but the US has refused to comment directly on his case.
Immediately prior to the arson, Germany's high court had declared unconstitutional an operation carried out by Bavarian authorities that involved listening in on telephone calls made by el-Masri's lawyer Manfred Gnjidic. That judgement was handed down on Wednesday.