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The US has captured a senior al Qaeda leader with close links to Osama bin Laden and has transferred him to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Department of Defense reported today. Muhammad Rahim al Afghani, a senior aide to bin Laden, was captured in August 2007.
Rahim was described as a “high-value” individual by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman in a press briefing today that announced Rahim’s transfer to the military detention facility. “Prior to his arrival in Guantanamo, he has been held in CIA custody,” Whitman said, indicating he has been interrogated by the CIA for eight months.
Whitman described Rahim as “one of (Osama bin Laden’s) most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists.” Rahim is from Nangahar province, Afghanistan, and joined al Qaeda in the mid-1990s. He served as a procurement agent, and then later as a courier for bin Laden. Rahim also helped facilitate bin Laden’s escape during the 2002 battle in Tora Bora in Nangahar province.
Just prior to his capture, Rahim was providing aid to Taliban, al Qaeda, and allied extremist groups operating in Afghanistan. “He had knowledge of or was involved in al Qaeda attacks planned against coalition forces in Afghanistan,” Whitman said. Rahim also obtained chemicals for an al Qaeda plot to attack US forces in 2002, likely making him a close associate of Abu Khabab, al Qaeda’s weapons of mass destruction expert. He also attempt to recruit Afghan local with access to US bases to assist in the 2002 plot.
Rahim is also said to be a close associate of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi. Hadi was one of Osama bin Laden's senior deputies. Hadi, a former major in the Iraqi Army during the rule of Saddam Hussein, was al Qaeda's internal operations chief and served as an instructor as well as the commander of several al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. He sat on al Qaeda’s Shura Majlis, or ruling council. Hadi was captured either in 2006 or early 2007 while attempting to re-enter Iraq. He was personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al Qaeda operations in Iraq.
Rahim’s capture highlights the central role Pakistan plays as al Qaeda’s base of operations. He was captured in Lahore, Pakistan in August 2007, according to The Nation. Several days later, Sheikh Ilyas Khel, a Taliban commander who served under legendary Taliban commander Younas Khalis, was captured in Peshawar. Khel “was posted on an important route, connecting Tora Bora with Jalalabad, through which most of the al Qaeda stalwarts escaped from Tora Bora” in 2002, The Nation reported.
Numerous al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and operatives have been killed or captured in Pakistan. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied terror groups maintain 29 training camps in North and South Waziristan. More camps are known to be in operation throughout the tribal areas, the Northwest Frontier Province and in greater Pakistan.
Just days ago, the US military struck a base in North Waziristan that was operated by Siraj Haqqani. Siraj is a senior terrorist commander waging a terror campaign inside both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The US killed Abu Laith al Libi, a senior al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan and a leader in the Libyan Islmic Fighting Group, during a strike in North Waziristan on Jan. 29. Adam Gadahn, al Qaeda's propaganda chief, has been rumored to have been killed in the same strike. Al Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf escaped from Pakistani custody in December 2007, with help from Pakistani police.
Osama bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and much of al Qaeda's leadership is believed to be sheltering in the tribal areas or the Northwestern Frontier Province. The Taliban openly runs the tribal agencies of North and South Waziristan, Bajaur, and Mohmand, and maintains a strong influence in the rest of the tribal regions and the Northwestern Frontier Province. The Afghan Taliban's Shura Majlis operates from Quetta in Baluchistan province.
See The Fall of Northwestern Pakistan for more information in the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda in the tribal areas and the Northwest Frontier Province.