Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 6 News List

`Personal war on terror' ends as US men arrested

A PRIVATE MATTER Three US citizens posing as `government agents' in Kabul were apparently taking terror personally, and even took prisoners

AFP , KABUL

Some Afghan prisoners detained in the capital by three US citizens, who were apparently waging a private war against terror, have been released, officials said yesterday.

Their captors -- three Americans, along with four Afghans working as their translators -- were arrested on Monday by Afghan intelligence officers in Kabul's Kart-i-Parwan district.

The group had been holding eight "civilians" in their private jail in a house not far from the upmarket Intercontinental Hotel in west Kabul.

"After we found out the men they were holding were innocent people, we released them," Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal told reporters.

However, a senior intelligence official, who asked not to be named, said that only three of those detained by the Americans had been released. The remainder were in the custody of intelligence agents.

The Americans and their Afghan assistants had also been handed over to intelligence agents for interrogation, Mashal said.

"The investigation is continuing -- right now we only know that they were running a private jail," another intelligence official who also requested anonymity, told reporters.

Only one of the three Americans was carrying a US passport, he said.

The US State Department Thursday said that the three men were American citizens.

Department spokesman Richard Boucher identified two of them as Jonathan Idema and Brent Bennett but said the third man would not be identified because he had not signed a Privacy Act waiver.

"As far as what they are being held for and what charges might be proffered, I'd have to refer you to the Afghan authorities for that," Boucher said.

"Let me make clear, first of all, the US government does not employ or sponsor these men."

Earlier in the week, the American-led coalition force hunting Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants in Afghanistan had warned in a press release that Idema had allegedly represented himself as an "American government and/or military official."

Afghan authorities have said that the three men were running a private jail in Kabul as part of their personal war against terror.

"Three foreigners who had formed a self-made group and were claiming their aims were to act against those carrying out terrorist attacks, have been arrested," Interior Ministry Ali Ahmed Jalali said Thursday.

"They did not have any legal connection with anyone and the US was also chasing them," Jalali said. "They are actually rebels."

Some 20,000 US-led troops are in Afghanistan to hunt and kill al-Qaeda and Taliban militants such as fugitive founder of the ousted regime Mullah Mohammed Omar and the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the States, Osama bin Laden.

However, since leading the offensive which toppled the Taliban regime for harbouring bin Laden in late 2001, the force has been unable to capture all militants and attacks are regularly carried out against US and Afghan soldiers, humanitarian and reconstruction workers and NATO-led peacekeepers.

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