U.S. authorities have told Germany that they will not extradite 13 purported CIA agents sought in the alleged kidnapping of a German citizen, an official said Saturday.
A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said the Bush administration told Berlin it would not hand over the group and said the ministry had, as a result, decided against giving Washington Munich prosecutors' formal request for their arrest. She spoke on condition of anonymity as required by the ministry.
The Justice Ministry last month sounded out U.S. authorities' willingness to cooperate with legal proceedings against the suspected agents, sending a legal request that officials call a common first step in dealing with international arrest warrants.
Munich prosecutors issued warrants for the arrest of the 13 purported CIA agents at the end of January, accusing them of wrongfully imprisoning Khaled el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm.
El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, maintains that he was abducted in December 2003 at the Serbian-Macedonian border and flown by the CIA to a detention center in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was abused.
He says he was released in Albania in May 2004, and that his captors told him he was seized in a case of mistaken identity.
Human rights campaigners have focused on el-Masri's story in pressing the United States to stop flying terrorism suspects to countries other than the U.S. where they could face abuse - a practice known as extraordinary rendition. In a separate case, Italy also has issued arrest warrants for purported CIA agents.
U.S. officials have declined to address the case in public. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that the United States has acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
CIA spokesman George Little said Saturday that the agency would not comment on the case.
U.S. Justice Department spokesman Andrew Ames said that, as a matter of long-standing policy, "the department does not discuss whether it has or has not received an extradition request from a given country or our communication with any country with respect to such requests."
"Mr. El-Masri has pursued litigation for civil damages here in the U.S., and this litigation is ongoing," Ames said. "To date, U.S. courts have barred his suit based on the U.S. government's assertion of state secrecy concerns."
By Associated Press Writer Matthias Armborst. The AP's John Heilprin in Washington contributed to this report.