US, Pakistan nab bin Laden associate
Tuesday, 16-May-2000 4:00PM Story from UPI / ANWAR IQBAL
ISLAMABAD, May 16 (UPI) - FBI agents in Pakistan have identified an Arab national, who tried to escape to Tunisia, as a close associate of terrorism-suspect Osama bin Laden.
Hamami Kamal, who is in his mid-30s, has been associated with bin Laden since the late 1980s when they fought together against the Soviet occupation army in Afghanistan, Pakistani and Western security officials said. He is now in Pakistani custody.
Western diplomatic sources told United Press International that Kamal was a senior member of bin Laden's Al-Quaida group of Muslim extremists. The United States holds the group responsible for bombing two U.S. embassies in East Africa in August 1998 that killed 268 people.
Senior Pakistani officials, who are now holding Kamal, said he flew out of Pakistan's Karachi airport to Rome on March 15 on a Tunisian passport.
"Since we had no previous record on him, we allowed him to go," said a senior immigration official at the Karachi airport.
According to Pakistani and Western diplomatic sources, Kamal destroyed his real passport in Rome and acquired a fake French passport. The passport, No. 930-936, was originally issued to one Mr. Ladooni, an Arab living in France, on July 19, 1996.
Kamal then tried to fly to Tunis on this new passport but Italian immigration officials realized that he was traveling on a fake passport and sent him back to Karachi, his last port of embarkation.
Kamal returned to Karachi the same week by Pakistan International's flight no. PK-750 and was immediately arrested at the airport.
He told his Pakistani interrogators that he used a fake passport to escape from Afghanistan because he was tired of "being a holy warrior" all his life. He identified himself as a Palestinian named Samir Mustafa and said he came to Afghanistan in the 1980s to participate in the Afghan jihad or holy war against the Russians. He said now that the Russians had left and the Afghans were fighting among themselves, he did not want to have anything to do with this war.
"Since he had already changed his identity thrice, we got suspicious and sent his picture to the FBI agents at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan," said a senior Pakistani security official.
"When the FBI checked their record, they found that Samir Mustafa, a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, had already died. When they matched Kamal's picture with those of the close associates of bin Laden, they noticed a striking resemblance to a senior official of the Al-Quaida, whose name was also Hamami Kamal, " the official said.
Further investigation showed that he was the same Kamal who was a close associate of bin Laden and that he was a Tunisian and not a Palestinian. Both Pakistani and U.S. officials came to the conclusion that Kamal tried to change his identity to travel to Europe and his native Tunisia. Kamal later told his interrogators that he was afraid if he traveled under his own name, the Tunisian police might arrest him. So he faked a new identity.
But Pakistani and U.S. officials dealing with the case believe that it was not simply the case of a faked identity. They think that bin Laden had sent Kamal to revive his contacts in Europe.
They regard his arrest as 'a big catch,' as one of the officials said, and said they believe he can tell them a lot about bin Laden and his group and their contacts outside Afghanistan.
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