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To boost tourism, EU funds help Poland re-fit CIA rendition hub

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland’s next big European-funded airport project is at Szymany, a remote airfield which the CIA used just over a decade ago to transport al Qaeda suspects to a secret interrogation center it ran in Poland.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was probably among detainees who landed at the airfield en route to the CIA facility, code named “Quartz,” in a nearby forest, according to a Council of Europe report.

A U.S. Senate report said last week the CIA operated a jail near the airport, though it made no mention of the airport. Polish officials have not acknowledged the existence of the CIA jail. Former President Aleksander Kwasniewski said after the Senate report he knew the CIA was holding detainees there, but did not know they were being abused by interrogators.

Now, a 48.6 million euro ($60 million) project is underway to create an international airport on the site of the airfield. Just over half the cost will come from the EU.

The airport’s operator, Warmia i Mazury Sp., says it expects 80,000 passengers in 2016, the first full year of operation, and about 250,000 passengers a year by 2035.

It is in a sparsely populated corner of north-east Poland. The nearest big population center, Olsztyn, with 175,000 people, is a one-hour drive away along narrow bumpy roads that are clogged with traffic in summer.

“That part of Poland needs an airport, but not there,” said Jacek Krawczyk, a former chairman of Polish airline LOT who has a senior role at the European Economic and Social Committee, which advises the European Commission. “It’s a complete mistake.”

The airport said it was in talks with low-cost carriers, and had provisional agreements with two Polish regional airlines, Eurolot and SprintAir. It said work was underway to make the airport more accessible. It expects to start making a profit from around 2020.

Reporting by Wiktor Szary and Christian Lowe; Editing by Sara Ledwith