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UPDATE 1-Magazine mulls legal action against German spies

(Adds Afghan ministers, paragraphs 4-7)

BERLIN, April 24 (Reuters) - German news weekly Der Spiegel said on Thursday it was considering legal action after the BND foreign intelligence agency admitted spying on one of its journalists.

The magazine says BND head Ernst Uhrlau has apologised to journalist Susanne Koelbl for the agency’s monitoring of her emails to an Afghan politician in 2006.

“In view of this renewed serious breach of press freedom, Der Spiegel has decided to look at the legal and constitutional implications of the case,” it said in a statement.

The BND has yet to comment publicly on the affair.

Afghan’s Trade and Industry Minister Amin Farhang, who German media identified as the object of the inquiry, said this implied he was co-operating with forces hostile to his government.

“Because of this absurd lie that I’m some kind of double agent, my life and the lives of my family are in great danger,” he told Germany’s Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily, according to an advance copy of the paper’s Friday edition.

“I could be shot on the street tomorrow,” he added.

Farhang said he was “deeply saddened” by the incident but added that although the BND had known about it since February, the government had yet to apologise to him. He had no desire to see relations between Germany and Afghanistan suffer, he added.

Separately, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told the Financial Times Deutschland daily that his government would bring up the matter with Berlin in the next few days.

Germans, still haunted by memories of spying by Adolf Hitler’s Gestapo and communist East Germany’s Stasi secret police, are very sensitive to any breach of civil liberties. The affair has prompted some lawmakers to call for Uhrlau to resign.

A parliamentary committee investigating the matter said it condemned the fact that Uhrlau had informed neither the government nor lawmakers about the monitoring of a Spiegel journalist, but that this activity did not mean he should quit.

“The trust between the parliamentary committee and the leadership of the BND is damaged,” Thomas Oppermann, head of the committee, said in a statement.

Der Spiegel said it was unacceptable that the BND should spy on Koelbl over a period of six months, especially given a similar case a couple of years ago which the agency described as a one-off. Then, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the BND should not spy on journalists.

Uhrlau is under increasing pressure, although it is unclear how much he knew about the monitoring.

“Faith in the ability of Mr Uhrlau to lead (the BND) has suffered considerably,” Max Stadler, a lawmaker for the opposition liberal Free Democrats, told television channel N-24.

Writing by Madeline Chambers, editing by Mark Trevelyan