A German citizen of Lebanese descent who claimed the CIA kidnapped and tortured him in an Afghan prison has been detained on suspicion of arson and sent to a psychiatric ward, police said Thursday.
Khaled el-Masri, 43, was taken into custody at a wholesale market in the southern German town of Neu-Ulm after the 4:45 a.m. blaze and a judge ordered his admission to a hospital psychiatric ward, police said.
"We don't know the motive for his offense," police inspector Alfons Wagner told The Associated Press. "But we know that el-Masri was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the hospital."
El-Masri was under suspicion of setting fire to the entrance of the market after having destroyed its glass door, a police statement said. Smoke and water caused around $680,000 in damage.
El-Masri's lawyer Manfred Gnjidic told the AP that his client had "a complete nervous breakdown."
"Torture victims have to be in therapy," Gnjidic said, adding that for three years he tried unsuccessfully to get el-Masri into a therapy program but nobody supported him.
The online edition of daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said el-Masri had had an argument with the market about an electronic device he had bought there earlier.
In March, a U.S. federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, refused to reinstate a lawsuit by el-Masri, who claimed the CIA tortured him in a prison in Afghanistan, ruling that the case could jeopardize national security by disclosing state secrets.
Says he was beaten, sexually abused
El-Masri said he was mistakenly identified as an associate of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers and was kidnapped while attempting to enter Macedonia on New Year's Eve 2003. He claims he was flown to a CIA-run prison known as the "salt pit" in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he was beaten and sexually abused with an object during five months in captivity.
Human rights campaigners have seized on el-Masri's story to press the U.S. to stop flying terrorism suspects to countries other than the U.S. where they could face abuse and torture — a practice known as extraordinary rendition.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials have declined to address the case. However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said the United States has acknowledged making a mistake with el-Masri.
El-Masri's case also caused trans-Atlantic friction in April when Munich prosecutors pressed the U.S. for the arrest of 13 suspected CIA agents wanted in the alleged kidnapping of el-Masri.
Arrest warrants were issued at the end of January for the unidentified agents, accused of the wrongful imprisonment of el-Masri and causing him serious bodily harm.
At that time, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed the U.S. Justice Department was handling the German warrants, but did not provide further details.