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Sat, Nov 24, 2001 - Page 5 News List

Prisoners deny al-Qaeda allegiance

PRISONERS The Northern Alliance has captured more than 500 foreigners fighting with the Taliban. They include 200 Pakistanis arrested along the front of the last northern outpost


Wrapped in a dirty brown blanket, his arm in a blood-soaked sling, a deep hole gouged from his shoulder by shrapnel, Zabin says he's not one of Osama bin Laden's men.

His captors think otherwise.

Zabin, a Saudi Arabian, and other foreigners have been jailed since Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance.

Their home now is a basement prison in a military compound, a collection of filthy, rancid smelling subterranean rooms.

They lay on the floor, huddled beneath dirty woolen blankets, or on ratty steel bunk beds. They lay crowded seven and eight to a room.

They were from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan and Indonesia -- all warriors for the ousted Taliban regime that preached a strict brand of Islam, said Daulat Mir, deputy head of the jail.

"When we first arrested them, we asked them, `Which group do you belong to?' They said `al-Qaeda,'" Mir said, referring to bin Laden's terrorist network.

In their sweep across Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance has captured more than 500 foreigners fighting alongside the Taliban, Mir said.

They include about 200 Pakistani militants arrested along the front in Kunduz Province, the last northern outpost under Taliban control.

Others were caught in Kabul, Herat and other cities abandoned by the Taliban after Mazar-i-Sharif fell Nov. 9, leading to the wholesale collapse of Taliban control over most of the country.

"First we will interrogate them and then it will be up to the leadership to decide how to proceed," Mir said.

At the military jail, a flight of stairs leads down to a darkened foyer, where guard Mohammed Saqi fumbles with a handful of keys to unlock the large padlock on the gray steel door leading to the underground cells.

Bare light bulbs dangle from wires, illuminating a long, grime-streaked corridor lined with padlocked steel doors. Saqi opens a small window, through which several men can be seen beneath blankets.

Zabin, the Saudi Arabian, wears only a pair of baggy pants. The blanket is pulled back by guards to reveal the bloodied bandage and the gaping hole where he says shrapnel ripped into him while he was at the front north of Kabul.

He speaks Arabic and a little Dari, one of Afghanistan's languages. He says he's from Qasim in Saudi Arabia.

Zabin shakes his head when asked if he was affiliated with bin Laden, whose al-Qaeda network is blamed by Washington for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US.

"He is from Osama. We know that," says Mullah Mohammed, the prison security chief.

Grimacing in pain, Zabin won't, or can't, say more. Prison officials say he has been seen by a doctor, who sent him back to the jail.

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