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Al Qaeda operative held, Pentagon says

Officials say the high-ranking member has provided key details and was transferred last week to Guantanamo.

April 28, 2007|Josh Meyer | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon said Friday that it had taken custody of one of Al Qaeda's most senior members, an operational commander who had been active in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Defense Department and U.S. intelligence officials would not say precisely when or where Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi was captured, or by whom, only that he was headed for his home country of Iraq when detained. Officials said Hadi was handed over to the CIA in late 2006 and has been providing crucial information about Al Qaeda.

"This was a very important capture. He was one of Al Qaeda's highest-ranking and experienced senior operatives," said U.S. Army Col. Gary L. Keck, a Pentagon spokesman. "He had been one of the organization's key paramilitary commanders in Afghanistan, and we know he was in direct communication" with Al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman Zawahiri, and perhaps leader Osama bin Laden.

In a declassified summary of Hadi's alleged activities released Friday by the Pentagon, he is accused of launching attacks on U.S. and coalition forces from Pakistan and leading an effort to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf as well as unidentified United Nations officials.

The summary said Hadi was trying to get back into Iraq to manage Al Qaeda's affairs there "and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets." Hadi had met with Al Qaeda members in Iran, and "believed that they should be doing more with the fight, including supporting efforts in Iraq and causing problems within Iran," the Pentagon summary said.

Hadi, who was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1961, was transferred from CIA custody to the Pentagon's this week. The handover occurred at the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where Hadi joins 14 other accused Al Qaeda leaders whose cases are being reviewed by military commissions to determine whether they should face a tribunal.

The Pentagon said in a statement that Hadi was expected to undergo a similar proceeding, given his alleged stature within the terrorist organization.

Officials did not disclose where the CIA had held Hadi or why he was being transferred to Guantanamo.

Friday's announcement drew immediate criticism from human rights organizations.

"When was [Hadi] taken into custody? How long has he been in CIA detention? Where has he been held, and what were his confinement conditions?" Amnesty International said in a statement. "The lack of information around this transfer only adds to the deep concerns surrounding the United States' conduct in the so-called 'war on terror.' "

Human Rights Watch said in a statement, "The CIA's reliance on enforced disappearance also raises serious concerns about the likelihood of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counter-terrorism director at Human Rights Watch, added, "The CIA's secret detention of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi is a blatant violation of international law. This transfer shows that Congress will have to act to end the CIA's illegal detention program."

A U.S. counter-terrorism official said Hadi had been providing crucial information about Al Qaeda's command structure and its operations, including continuing efforts to launch attacks around the world with help from senior leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

That official spoke on condition of anonymity, saying he could not discuss the details of Hadi's arrest or the cooperation between the United States and at least one U.S. ally that participated in his capture.

"This is sensitive. It would put key foreign partners at risk were we to disclose where he was captured," said the official, who added that "the CIA was deeply involved in efforts to locate and capture this individual."

The official and others said Hadi was not caught in Pakistan, a U.S. ally that Washington believes is Al Qaeda's new base of operations. In the past, the Islamabad government has not wanted to publicize its close working relationship with the CIA and U.S. military in the capture of suspected terrorists.

U.S. officials also said Hadi was not caught in Iran.

Hadi was believed to be in close contact with senior Al Qaeda leaders who have been working out of Pakistan since late 2001 airstrikes drove them from their haven in neighboring Afghanistan. Hadi's suspected close associates included former chief of operations and confessed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and commanders who replaced Mohammed after his capture.

Hadi also figured prominently in Al Qaeda's training activities and paramilitary operations dating back to well before the Sept. 11 attacks, and was instrumental in developing the terrorist network's relationship with the Taliban, the counter-terrorism and Pentagon officials said.

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