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International Internet Magazine. Baltic States news & analytics Wednesday, 04.10.2023, 12:51

Antaviliai: Lithuania's alleged US 'war on terror' jail

BC, Vilnius, 23.11.2009.Print version

On the edge of a Lithuanian forest, the stone and redwood building blends into the pines, as mysterious as the American agents who allegedly used it to interrogate suspected Al-Qaeda members, reports AFP/LETA.


Some 20 kilometres from the Baltic state's capital, Vilnius, a former riding school in the hamlet of Antaviliai purportedly hosted a secret CIA facility in 2004 and 2005.


Locals are far from surprised by allegations about the site's role behind the scenes in the US "war on terror".


"The trucks were coming and going non-stop, there were people who spoke English, black men working there," retiree Ruta Boreikiene told AFP.

Lithuania's minority population is minuscule, so the men's ethnicity caught residents' eyes.


In August, citing unnamed former intelligence officials and logs of flights between Afghanistan and Lithuania, the American channel ABC reported that the ex-Soviet state had hosted a CIA facility. The move, ABC was told, was a trade-off for Washington's staunch backing for Lithuania's 2004 NATO entry.


The Lithuanian government has acknowledged that flights refuelled in the country but denied the prison claims.


Last month, however, President Dalia Grybauskaite said she had "indirect suspicions" about a lock-up. She was not in power when the alleged site was in operation, having been elected this year. Lithuanian lawmakers launched a formal probe earlier this month. The findings are due in December.


"We're conducting our inquiry, and we're examining all possible sites," inquiry chief Arvydas Anusauskas told AFP Thursday. "Details of our investigation will not be made public until we have completed it".


On Wednesday, ABC had beefed up the allegations. Citing unnamed Lithuanian officials and a former American intelligence operative, it spotlighted the Antaviliai site.


The government hit back Thursday, with Foreign Minister Vygaudas Usackas saying there were "more important things in Lithuania than spending two days denying the gossip of ABC journalists".


Officials at Lithuania's national property registry told AFP the building was constructed in 1992, a year after Lithuania won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. It was sold in 1999 to two Lithuanian women who turned it into a riding school and cafe.


In March 2004 the site was purchased by Elite LLC, a firm registered in the US state of Delaware, Panama and Washington, DC – which ABC claimed was a CIA front.


According to information obtained by AFP, it was sold for two million litas (579,000 euros, 863,000 dollars).


The new owners reportedly constructed a "building within a building", where, according to ABC's sources, suspects were interrogated using torture techniques such as sleep deprivation.


Information obtained by AFP shows that no planning applications involving the site have been made since 2002. But locals remember the apparent scale of the US owners' work.


"Given the amount of earth they dug up and trucked out, and the tonnes of concrete that was brought it, it seemed obvious to me that there was some serious construction going on," said fortysomething resident Viaceslavas, who did not give his last name.


The register shows that the Lithuanian state bought the property in January 2007.


Ex-communist US allies Romania and Poland have faced similar claims about secret US sites in the past, denied by their governments – although the head of a Polish parliamentary inquiry said he had "justified suspicions."

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