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Pentagon Can Not Confirm Claims Rebel Group in Chad Seeks to Turn Over Terrorist - 2004-05-14

U.S. officials say they cannot confirm claims by a rebel group in Chad that it is holding a feared North African terrorist and is seeking to turn him over.

U.S. officials have felt since earlier this year that Algerian-born terrorist suspect Saifi Amari survived a shootout with government forces in Chad. More than 40 members of his Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat were killed in the clash.

A leading Pentagon official indicated at the time the alleged terrorist leader, nicknamed "The Para", had escaped. But his whereabouts remained unknown.

Now, a rebel group called the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad is claiming it has him and is seeking to turn him over, possibly for a cash payment.

U.S. officials say they cannot confirm the group's claim, which has been reported both in Europe and North Africa.

But The New York Times quotes a representative of the Chadian rebels as asserting they have contacted various governments since mid-March, including Algeria, Germany and the United States.

But the talks are reported to have bogged down over the reluctance of foreign officials to offend the government of Chad by dealing with the rebels.

"The Para" has been a wanted man since last year when his group kidnapped more than 30 European tourists in the Sahara, most of them German. He is reported to have received a substantial ransom for releasing them.

U.S. officials say he used the money to buy military equipment and to build influence with the Salafist group.

But U.S. counterterrorism experts, working with countries in the Sahel region, forced "The Para's" group on the run earlier this year, a pursuit that ended with the shootout in Chad.