bin Laden helper in Pentagon custody

March 14, 2008 5:58:16 PM PDT
After secret interrogations, the CIA transferred to U.S. military custody a high-level al-Qaida figure who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001, the Pentagon announced Friday. Mohammad Rahim was captured last summer in Lahore, Pakistan, according to a diplomatic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because intelligence matters are involved. Rahim was later handed over to the CIA, which after interrogating him, turned him over to the U.S. military this week. In a message to agency employees Friday, CIA Director Michael Hayden said it was the first such transfer from his agency's interrogation program since April 2007.

Rahim is now being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Hayden said.

"Rahim's detention in the summer of 2007 was a blow to more than one terrorist network," Hayden told agency employees in a memo obtained by The Associated Press. "He gave aid to al-Qaida, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militants."

Since early in the global war on terrorism following the Sept. 11 attacks by al-Qaida, the CIA has held captured suspects in secret prisons and interrogated them. Rahim became the 16th "high-value" suspect handed over to the military by the CIA and held at Guantanamo.

The CIA has held and interrogated fewer than a hundred prisoners since 2001.

Although U.S. officials refused to say where Rahim was captured, an Aug. 2 report in Pakistan's The Nation newspaper said he was one of two al-Qaida and Taliban aides picked up by authorities. Rahim was arrested in Lahore a few days before publication of the article, the report said.

"Rahim is a tough, seasoned jihadist," Hayden said. "His combat experience, which dates back to the 1980s, includes plots against U.S. and Afghan targets."

Rahim is a close associate of bin Laden and has ties to al-Qaida organizations throughout the Middle East, according to Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman. Officials said Rahim helped arrange the al-Qaida hide-out at Tora Bora - a mountain area full of warrens used by bin Laden during the 2001 U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.

He assisted al-Qaida's escape from the area during the U.S. operation to try to catch the al-Qaida leader, officials said.

"In 2001, as the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hide-out," Hayden said. "When al-Qaida had to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too."

Officials allege that he sought chemicals for one attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and tried to recruit individuals with access to American military facilities there.

"While that record alone would justify Rahim's capture, it does not fully describe his place in the terrorist infrastructure," Hayden said. "Proficient in several languages and familiar with the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, he was also an extremist facilitator and courier with high-level contacts."

Rahim is perhaps best known in counterterror circles as a personal facilitator and translator for bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders, Hayden said.

Hayden said the most powerful tool against terror suspects "is good intelligence work, including cultivation of the partnerships overseas that were so critical to ending the terrorist career of Mohammad Rahim."

Associated Press writer Pamela Hess contributed to this report.

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