Arrest of al-Qaeda member in Afghanistan confirmed
Friday November 30, 9:56 PM AFP
Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan have arrested alleged al-Qaeda terrorist network member Ahmed Omar Abdel-Rahman, the US-led coalition against terrorism confirmed.
"Within the last 24 hours we can confirm that United Front (Northern Alliance) forces have captured Ahmed Omar Abdel-Rahman and we can expect him to be handed over to the coalition authorities shortly," coalition spokesman Kenton Keith told a news conference.
He said US authorities wanted to question Rahman, an Egyptian, but he could provide no details about the circumstances of the arrest or where he was being held.
"His name has been closely associated with Osama bin Laden and with the training of al-Qaeda and international terrorist group members," Keith said.
Rahman is believed to be the son of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the blind Muslim cleric convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1995 in connection with a foiled plot to bomb several New York landmarks.
Sheik Omar's followers were convicted in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
Keith also said that a top Taliban intelligence chief appeared to have defected to the Northern Alliance in recent days.
"We understand that such a defection has taken place, that a person of that description has passed into the hands of the Northern Alliance forces and we would be very pleased if that were the case," he said, without naming the individual.
The capture of Rahman and the defection of a senior Taliban intelligence official could provide valuable clues to the whereabouts of alleged terrorist mastermind bin Laden and other members of his network.
Rahman is understood to be an important al-Qaeda figure in charge of recruitment.
His capture is the first confirmed arrest of a top al-Qaeda member since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said Thursday some senior Taliban officials had defected and in some cases US officials had had access to them for intelligence purposes.
"It is very clear that there have been some defections and there have been some defections of some of the more senior people," she said, adding: "I just don't have names that I can share."
She said US investigators had been given access to the defectors "if we have interest in them and think it might be useful."
She said the defectors were Taliban officials rather than leaders of al-Qaeda.
The Los Angeles Times on Thursday reported that several top al-Qaeda members had been captured in Afghanistan by Northern Alliance forces, including the 36-year-old Rahman.
It said they could be flown to the Pacific region to be held at a US military facility, perhaps in Guam or Wake Island.
"This is a significant catch," an unidentified senior US administration official told the daily of Rahman. "He is a known terrorist, a member of the top al-Qaeda hierarchy."
Another top al-Qaeda figure, bin Laden's deputy Mohammad Atef, was killed in an air strike on a building near the capital Kabul earlier this month.
A former Egyptian policeman in his 50s, Atef was accused of being a mastermind with bin Laden of the September 11 attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
Al-Qaeda has been accused of a string of attacks against US interests, including the September atrocities, the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in East Africa and the suicide bomb attack on the USS Cole in Yemen last year.
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