More American vigilantes may be in Afghanistan, U.S. military says

R. A. Hettinga rah at
Sat Jul 24 23:43:40 PDT 2004

<> printable article

More American vigilantes may be in Afghanistan, U.S. military says

 Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan - The U.S. military said Saturday there could be more
vigilantes hunting terror suspects here after a group of Americans were
arrested for allegedly abusing Afghans in a private jail.

The U.S. government is offering big rewards for the capture of top
terrorist suspects, including a US$50 million bounty on al-Qaida leader
Osama bin Laden.

It remains unclear if the three Americans who went on trial in the Afghan
capital on Wednesday charged with hostage-taking and torture were hoping to
cash in _ or if they were the only such group in the country.

"It is entirely possible that there are others acting independently,"
military spokesman Maj. Jon Siepmann said.

Afghanistan is awash with shadowy foreign security operatives. Some work
for private contractors protecting reconstruction workers, others
apparently with the military or secret services.

The U.S. military has tried to distance itself from the three detained
Americans, led by a former U.S. soldier on a self-appointed
counter-terrorism mission.

But both the Americans and NATO peacekeepers acknowledge contact with the
group, which dressed in army fatigues and wore the beards and dark glasses
favored by special forces soldiers.

NATO troops helped the trio with three raids in the capital last month,
while the U.S. military gratefully accepted a detainee at Bagram Air Field,
north of Kabul, in May.

Afghan authorities, who also mistook the men for U.S. special forces,
arrested them only in July after NATO troops and the U.S. military
denounced them as impostors and raised the alarm.

Siepmann didn't say whether the military knew of any other freelancers or
bounty-hunters in Afghanistan.

"However, I think the issue of Mr. Idema has brought a heightened awareness
to everyone involved ... to be on the lookout for this kind of behavior,"
Siepmann said.

"I think Mr. Idema's arrest and current judicial process will serve as a
warning to others who will attempt to do this in Afghanistan," he said.

The three face up to 20 years in jail if convicted.

Afghan security forces freed eight prisoners from the group's makeshift
jail in a house in downtown Kabul. Firearms were also seized in the house.

Idema, who claims to have fought with Afghan forces against the Taliban in
2001-2002, says the men were arrested to avert an al-Qaida plot to attack
foreign troops and assassinate a string of Afghan political leaders.

He told reporters in court on Wednesday that he had support from within the
U.S. Department of Defense and that he could produce evidence to prove it _
a claim Pentagon officials dispute.

The trial is expected to resume early next month.

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: rah at>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

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