BERLIN - The CIA had 25 agents in Germany after the September 11 attacks and planned to "rendition" illegally al-Qaeda suspects without informing the German government, Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.
"It was about grabbing people without the Germans knowing about it," the German weekly magazine cited an unnamed former CIA agent as saying. "We were planning stuff that was totally illegal."
The plan went so far that other parts of the Central Intelligence Agency were in the loop, but in the end it was scrapped because of objections by the agency's German section, Spiegel cited its source as saying.
"We said 'no' because we were of the opinion that you just couldn't do a thing like that in a friendly country where there were so many US soldiers based," the source is cited as saying.
The claim follows a Vanity Fair magazine report that the US spy agency intended to "find, fix and finish" an al-Qaeda suspect in Hamburg, where several of those involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States formed an Islamist cell.
Vanity Fair said that the CIA team was sent to assassinate Mamun Darkanzali, a Syrian-born German believed at the time to have known at least three of the hijackers, but in the end Washington pulled the plug.
Darkanzali was detained by German authorities in 2004 but prosecutors dropped their investigation in 2006, saying that although he had served as a contact for several Al-Qaeda members, he could not be considered a member.
Spiegel, however, cited its source as denying there was any such plan, saying: "That would have been completely impossible in a country like Germany."
The "extraordinary rendition" programme was set up by the administration of then president George W. Bush after the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. It involved the transfer of "war on terror" suspects by the CIA to countries known to practise torture.
In November, an Italian court convicted in absentia 23 US secret agents for the CIA's kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in 2003, including the CIA's Milan station chief at the time, Robert Seldon Lady.
One of those convicted, Sabrina DeSousa, said after the trial that she "broke the law" but that everything she did was "approved back in Washington."