U.S. forces questioning al-Qaida financial officer

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Associated Press WriterKANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) -- A finance official for the al-Qaida terrorist network was being questioned at the American base in Kandahar on Wednesday after he turned himself in voluntarily, U.S. officials said.

The man came a day earlier to Kandahar airport, where thousands of U.S. troops are based, and offered to be questioned, Marine spokesman 1st Lt. James Jarvis said. Jarvis would not give details on the man, but other U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity that he was an al-Qaida money man.

"Military intelligence is jumping with joy over the opportunity to question him," Jarvis said.

The man was not being held as a detainee. A detention center at the Kandahar base holds hundreds of captured al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.

Also Wednesday, searchers recovered the last body of the seven Marines who died in last week's crash of a tanker plane in the mountains of Pakistan, the biggest single U.S. loss of the Aghanistan campaign. The remains were to be flown first to Kandahar and then onward to the United States, officials said.

Overnight, the third planeload of detainees in less than a week left Kandahar overnight for a high-security jail at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where they will be interrogated. Jarvis said that one of the 30 prisoners was sedated because he expressed a fear of flying.

Soldiers of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, which eventually is to take over the Kandahar base from the Marines, began their first patrols Wednesday, Army spokesman Maj. Ignacio Perez said. Two infantry companies are in place and will be taking positions on the perimeter in next few days.

Active threats remain outside the perimeter. Marine patrols this week spotted men who appeared to be armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers heading toward an abandoned mud house outside the perimeter, said U.S. Marine Capt. Dan Greenwood.

The Marines sent out patrols to investigate. They did not find the men, but discovered a cache of rockets and mortar rounds and some tunnels, which were later blown up.

The same area was used by gunmen last week to launch an attack when the first C-17 transport plane took off with the first batch of 20 prisoners heading for Guantanamo.

Troops on the perimeter frequently spot suspicious figures just outside the base.

"They act like sheep herders, but these sheep herders carry radios and call stuff in," said Marine Sgt. Ethan Ramsey, 22, of White Plains, Mo. "The weird part of it is, they can just appear in an instant. There's got to be tunnels."

Amid concerns about the danger posed by al-Qaida holdouts still in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld defended his decision not to send a large U.S. ground force to hunt down bin Laden when al-Qaida fighters made a final stand at the Tora Bora cave complex last month.

"The larger number of Americans on the ground might very well have hastened his departure as opposed to delayed it," Rumsfeld said. "Had we had a lot of people on the ground ... you would have gotten everyone in Afghanistan against you, as opposed to just the Taliban and al-Qaida."

As countries prepare for next week's donor conference on aid to Afghanistan in Tokyo, World Bank President James Wolfensohn said rebuilding the country will cost $15 billion over the next 10 years and said it is crucial to get money flowing quickly so the interim government can hire civil servants and start functioning.

The new government owes $70 million to 235,000 civil servants who haven't received salaries in at least eight months, Ahmed Fawzi, a spokesman for United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, said in Kabul, the capital.

In other developments:

--The United States will charge John Walker Lindh, the 20-year-old American who fought with the Taliban, with conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens. He could face life in prison if convicted. Authorities had been considering whether to charge Lindh, discovered among Taliban prisoners in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, with treason -- which carries a potential death sentence. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Lindh would be transferred soon to the United States from the U.S. Naval ship where he currently is held.

-- The U.S. State Department said it was looking into a woman's report that her husband was kidnapped in Afghanistan this month while on a private humanitarian mission and is being held for $25,000 ransom. Amanda Bowers of Harvest, Alabama, said her husband, Clark, was kidnapped while on a trip to deliver medical and other supplies.

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