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A German court has issued arrest warrants for 13 people who are believed to be CIA agents or contract employees. They were allegedly involved in kidnapping a German citizen three years ago and taking him to Afghanistan for questioning.

This is the second such case confronting the CIA's practice of extraordinary rendition in Europe. A judge in Italy is considering whether to indict 26 Americans accused of kidnapping an Egyptian cleric. From Berlin, NPR's Emily Harris reports.

EMILY HARRIS: It's not every day that a court in a close U.S. ally issues arrest warrants for CIA agents. But in the Munich office handling this case, senior prosecutor August Stern said what's happening is all very routine.

AUGUST STERN: (Through translator) If you suspect someone of a crime and you don't know where this person lives, you request an arrest warrant. Then, you announce this arrest warrant. It's a normal process.

HARRIS: The warrants are valid worldwide, he says. Prosecutors aren't yet sure if the names on them are real names or aliases. As far as where they are, a German television program says mostly in North Carolina.

Unidentified Man #1: (Speaking German)

Unidentified Man #2: So we wanted to ask you about the renditions...

Man #1: (Speaking German)

HARRIS: Last summer, a reporter for German broadcaster NDR knocked on the doors of homes the network says belong to some of the 13 suspects. No one would talk. Those named on the arrest warrants are charged with kidnapping and causing grievous bodily harm to Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent. He was picked up in Macedonia in late December 2003, taken to prison in Afghanistan, held there for nearly five months, then dropped off in Albania to find his way home. El-Masri's lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, thinks these warrants are a real step forward.

MANFRED GNJIDIC: The fact that they have done this today, this means they have very concrete findings and evidences against the CIA agents.

HARRIS: But international law professor Andreas Paulus of Gottingen University is skeptical there will be concrete results.

ANDREAS PAULUS: I don't think that anybody will be tried. But it will be difficult for those accused to travel to Europe. And it will - it is a sign that certain behavior is not tolerated even when it comes from a government.

HARRIS: El-Masri's case is also the subject of a German parliamentary inquiry into what the previous German government, led by Gerhard Schröder, knew about the rendition. Current foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was a close Schröder adviser, and is under particular pressure. Law professor Paulus says the inquiry is painting a picture of a German administration that said one thing and did another.

PAULUS: On the one hand, the government claimed that it was upholding human rights, and on the other hand it seems that the Schröder administration was very reluctant actually to do something about the human rights of concrete people.

HARRIS: El-Masri, meanwhile, is still unemployed, says his lawyer.

GNJIDIC: He isn't back to normal. But he is happy about the news coming out today. And on the way coming back to normal life.

HARRIS: El-Masri also has a case pending in U.S. federal court. His lawyers say he's mostly looking for an explanation and an apology.

Emily Harris, NPR News, Berlin.

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