March 15, 2008 in Nation/World

High-level al-Qaida operative detained

Josh Meyer and Carol J. Williams Los Angeles Times
 

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba – A high-level al-Qaida operative who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001 during the U.S. military operation has been captured and sent to Guantanamo Bay, the Pentagon and CIA said Friday.

Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani was captured in July in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani authorities, who handed him over to the CIA, according to sources familiar with Rahim’s detention. Rahim was then kept in secret custody by the CIA until he was handed over to the Pentagon earlier this week. On Friday, he was transferred to the U.S. naval facility at Guantanamo Bay.

CIA spokesman George E. Little said he could not comment on where Rahim was held since last summer, what kinds of interrogation techniques he was subject to and what he might have told his interrogators.

Some of the other suspected senior al-Qaida leaders in CIA custody have been subjected to controversial coercive methods of interrogation, including a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding.

In a memo issued Friday to CIA employees, Director Michael V. Hayden said Rahim’s detention last summer “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to al-Qaida, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militants.”

The Afghani is only the 16th alleged al-Qaida member that the CIA has classified as a high-value detainee; 14 others were brought to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006, some of them after spending several years in secret CIA custody. Another was brought to the Cuba base last year.

As the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing in 2001, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout, Hayden said. “When al-Qaida was forced to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too,” Hayden said in his letter.

A Defense Department spokesman, Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, said Rahim had ties to al-Qaida organizations throughout the Middle East and that he had become one of Bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists before his detention.

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