Senior al Qaeda captive fled US prison
Omar al-Faruq, one of al Qaeda's most senior global operatives, escaped
WASHINGTON – Omar al-Faruq, one of al Qaeda’s most senior global operatives, escaped from an American military prison in Afghanistan in July, U.S. defense officials said.
The Kuwaiti man, who was captured in Indonesia in 2002 and turned over to the United States, was among four prisoners who fled heavily fortified Bagram Air Base prison on July 10, the officials said. He remains at large.
The officials, who asked not to be identified, did not explain why the United States did not reveal Faruq was among the four men until pressed by lawyers this week at a military trial in Texas of an Army sergeant charged with maltreating detainees in Afghanistan.
At the time of his capture in June 2002, Faruq was al Qaeda’s most senior operative in Southeast Asia, according to intelligence officials.
«Al-Faruq was one of the four who escaped on July 10 from the Bagram detention facility,» said one of the defense officials at the Pentagon.
In Kabul, the U.S. military released a statement saying prison security procedures were bolstered immediately after the breakout of the four men, and that a search for them continued with help from Afghanistan’s government.
Defense officials said officials at Bagram changed their procedures for accounting for prisoners in the aftermath of the escape.
Faruq’s disappearance did not come to light until defense attorneys for Army Sgt. Alan Driver demanded on Tuesday to know where the al Qaeda operative was so he could testify at the military trial. Military prosecutors conceded they could not produce him as a witness because he had escaped.
LINKS TO BIN LADEN
Faruq was sent to Southeast Asia in 1998 by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to expand the network’s operations in the region. He linked up with Jemaah Islamiah, a militant group dedicated to creating a Muslim empire in Southeast Asia, and has been implicated in several bomb attacks in Indonesia.
After being taken to the U.S. jail at Bagram and subjected to three months of interrogation techniques that included sleep deprivation and isolation, Faruq told investigators several U.S. embassies in Southeast Asia would be attacked on September 11, 2002.
The information prompted the closure of several embassies and the raising of the U.S. security alert level to orange — the second-highest — but the forecast attacks did not materialize.
Faruq also implicated Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who intelligence officials say is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, in planning bomb attacks in the region. Bashir denies involvement in terrorism.
The escape in Afghanistan was the first known one from the heavily guarded detention center deep within the sprawling Bagram Air Base, 30 miles north of the capital, Kabul.
Days later, the Taliban guerrilla movement said the four Arab al Qaeda militants had reached a Taliban haven safely.
The Bagram detention center has housed hundreds of suspects since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in late 2001 for refusing to give up bin Laden after the September 11 attacks on the United States. They have included senior al Qaeda suspects arrested in neighboring Pakistan and elsewhere.