U.S. military - Not all prisoners are Muslims

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba -- Some of the detainees at this American base are not Muslim but Christian, U.S. military officials say, describing inmates as members of a "global community" who in some cases may be sympathetic to groups other than the Taliban or al-Qaida.

"I personally did not expect ... some of the nations that are represented in Camp X-Ray," Lt. Col. Bill Costello, a spokesman for the joint task force in charge of the detention camp, said Tuesday.

Since the first prisoners arrived from Afghanistan just over a month ago, the number of nationalities represented has risen from a handful to at least 26, with a dozen or more languages and dialects spoken.

The military is now holding 254 men in cells with walls of chain-link fence at the naval base in eastern Cuba. A handful of translators flown in to help question the detainees and convey their needs has expanded to about two dozen linguists.

U.S. officials have not named all the countries of origin, citing security concerns and requests from governments.

"If I could release the 26 countries that have been affected by the al-Qaida, some of those countries may be shocking to people -- the languages, the various backgrounds," Costello said. He added, "There is a global community out at Camp X-Ray."

The majority are Muslim, but there are Christians among them, Costello said.

Another spokesman, Maj. Stephen Cox, said earlier that there were "other religions" in addition to the Muslim faith, implying that there are at least three represented at Camp X-Ray.

In the most detailed breakdown, a senior Pentagon official said on condition of anonymity last week that when there were 158 detainees at the camp, they included about 50 Saudis, about 30 Yemenis, about 25 Pakistanis, eight Algerians, three Britons and small numbers from Egypt, Australia, France, Russia, Belgium, Sweden and other countries.

Denmark said Tuesday that a Danish citizen was among the 34 detainees who arrived Monday. The foreign ministry said it received the news through the International Red Cross, which had visited the suspect in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he had been held since his capture. It said that Denmark has requested U.S. permission to visit him as soon as possible.

Flights bringing detainees from Kandahar resumed last week after being suspended so that U.S. civilian and military authorities could focus on interrogations, and 96 have arrived since.

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