Thu, Feb 19, 2015 - Page 3 News List

Man misidentified in photo as Islamic State recruiter

NY Times News Service, KANDAHAR, Afghanistan

After an airstrike killed a prominent recruiter for the Islamic State in Afghanistan last week, the Afghan spy agency issued a triumphant news release announcing his death and providing a picture of a man it identified as the wanted militant, Mullah Abdul Rauf.

Unfortunately, the National Directorate of Security sent news organizations a photograph of the wrong man. And not just any wrong man, but one who was struggling to lie low as he readjusted to life at home after 12 years of detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: a Kandahar resident named Shawali Khan.

In the days since the announcement, Afghan and US officials, as well as residents who knew Rauf, have reaffirmed that the militant commander was killed in the airstrike.

After the photo was published by the New York Times and other news organizations, the mistake was brought to the attention of the Times by lawyers for Khan.

When a reporter reached Khan for comment at his home, he confirmed that he was the man in the photo, and in person, the likeness was clear. Khan, who is in his early 50s, said it was an older picture, taken early in his time at Guantanamo Bay.

When asked to comment, US military officials privately acknowledged that the Afghan government had distributed the wrong photo.

For its part, the National Directorate of Security initially insisted that it had vetted the photo with its US counterparts before distributing it. However, the agency released a statement on Monday apologizing to Khan and saying that it had released the wrong photo because the men looked very similar and both had been at Guantanamo Bay.

Though frustrated by the mix-up, which Khan thought might place him in cross hairs he was eager to avoid, he was not exactly surprised: He already bore a grudge against Afghan and US officials for his initial arrest and detention at Guantanamo Bay in 2002, which he said had been brought about by false informers who wanted to take over his store and property in Kandahar.

At the time of his imprisonment, US officials accused Khan of being a member of the militant group Hezb-i-Islami. After being told by US officials in 2010 that he was going to be freed, Khan still was not able to return to Afghanistan until December last year. He said that officials never explained the delay.

“The Americans do not care about people’s lives,” he said. “They are a careless people. They are the bane of my existence.”

Now, Khan said he worried that the Afghan security forces “will pick me up ... and I will spend another 12 years in custody.”

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