The U.S. government announced Friday that it captured a senior al-Qaida leader late last year and interrogated him in CIA custody until this week, when he was transferred to the Defense Department's Guantanamo detention center. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
The Defense Department and the CIA say the man is Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, and they call him one of the al-Qaida terrorist network's most senior officials. They will not say exactly when, where or how he was captured, but a U.S. intelligence official tells VOA the capture was late last year and that he has been held by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) since then. The official says the capture was the result of work by several countries, but he would not say which ones.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the agency's detention and interrogation program has generated useful information before and that this case is no exception. The official says the capture of al-Iraqi is a "significant victory," and he was handed over to the Defense Department, because the CIA believes it has gleaned all the information of immediate value that al-Iraqi has. The official says the agency followed all U.S. government rules regarding the treatment of detainees during the interrogation.
Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi operated primarily in Pakistan and along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in recent years, and that he was captured when he was apparently in the process of taking on a new assignment.
"At the time of his capture, he was trying to return to his native country, Iraq, to manage al-Qaida's affairs and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against western targets," he said.
The most notorious leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was killed by U.S. forces just a few months before al-Iraqi's capture.
Whitman says al-Iraqi was one of al-Qaida's "highest ranking and experienced senior operatives," and that he was involved in plots to assassinate Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and an unnamed United Nations official, as well as attacks launched from Pakistan against U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan.
"He worked directly with the Taleban to determine responsibilities and lines of communication between Taleban and al-Qaida leaders in Afghanistan, specifically with regard to targeting of U.S. forces," he added.
Whitman also says al-Iraqi met with al-Qaida members in Iran shortly before his capture. A Pentagon news release says al-Iraqi urged al-Qaida operatives in Iran to do more to help insurgents in Iraq, and also to "cause problems" inside Iran.
"What's important here, I think, is that we've taken another bad individual that wants to do harm not only to coalition forces and the United States, but our allies around the world, off the streets," he noted.
The Pentagon says Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi, 46, was born in Mosul, Iraq. It says he was on al-Qaida's military committee and also on the 10-member advisory council working with al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden during the planning of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Bryan Whitman says al-Iraqi will be treated the same as the nearly 400 other detainees at Guantanamo. He says al-Iraqi will have a hearing to officially determine whether he is an "enemy combatant," which would make him eligible to be charged and tried under a new procedure approved by the U.S. Congress last year. Whitman says he will also have access to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Detainees at Guantanamo are also interrogated, and officials say many of them provide useful information even years after their capture.
Al-Iraqi becomes the 15th man at Guantanamo that the U.S. government considers a high-value detainee. The others were moved to the facility last September from secret CIA prisons abroad. At that time, President Bush announced that the prisons were empty, but would remain available for future detainees. The U.S. intelligence official who spoke to VOA on Friday says al-Iraqi was captured after that.