To this day no one can explain how four senior al Qaeda operatives were able to break out of the top-security American jail in the Afghan Bagram air base near Kabul on July 10; how they breached its defenses, cut across the giant base peopled by 12,000 US troops, slipped through checkpoints and security screenings and exited the base undetected.
There can be no doubt that the fugitives received outside help – whether in the form of inside intelligence or Afghans employed on the base.
This week, on Tuesday, October 18, the four escapees surfaced in a videotape aired by the Dubai-based Arab language satellite TV channel Al Arabiya. Its editing was of superior quality compared with the tapes that usually come out of Afghanistan.
Each of the four contributed separate scenes to the action, after declaring, “Our Jihad continues with our Taliban allies.” They were filmed engaged in such activities as handling weapons, training, delivering speeches and bragging about the mechanics of their escape.
In one section, Mahmoud al-Kahtani, a Saudi, instructs a group of fighters and shows them a map of the jail from which the four escaped. He explained that Sunday was chosen for the jail break because it is when non-believers have the day off.
Abdullah Hashimi, a Syrian, next explained how the four fugitives hid for four days inside the American air base surrounding the prison without being discovered. They then fled and joined the Taliban outside.
In the third segment, Mahmoud Ahmad, an Iraqi known also as Faruq al-Iraqi, is the narrator. He was arrested in 2002 in Indonesia as the suspected link between al Qaeda and the Indonesian Jemaah Islamiya. The fourth fugitive, Muhammad Hassan, identified as a Libyan, says the least of the four but also appeared to be the group’s leader.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s counter-terror sources identify Hassan by his real name of Sheikh Hassan Qaid.
Alleged American methods of pressure
He is indeed a Libyan national. Before the videotape was released, he circulated a special message to all al Qaeda fighters which outlined in detail his impressions of American methods of pursuit, detention, interrogation and handling of prisoners in the US jail facilities where he was held.
According to Hassan Qaid, the Americans when they caught him subjected him to a full body search; they took not only his finger- and toe-prints, but photographed the retinas of his eyes and took hair samples from all parts of his body.
In all stages of their interrogation, he claimed prisoners had their heads encased in a nylon bag and were exposed to loud noise that made it impossible to sleep. The Americans do not beat prisoners, he explained, but had their own methods of pressure. For instance, they would release a sudden spurt of icy water, or tie one hand of the prisoner to a post protruding from the wall 60 cm above the floor. This forced him to do everything with one hand in a semi-crouching position. He alleged they might shut a prisoner in an evil-smelling coffin for several hours.
The fugitive Hassan Qaid then listed the eight questions which he claimed American interrogators fired at him:
1. What terrorist attacks are planned for inside the United States?
2. What terrorist attacks are planned against American targets overseas?
3. Where are Osama bin Laden and his close aides?
4. Who are the next-generation al Qaeda commanders and where are they to be found?
5. Where are the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his following hiding?
6. Where are Mullah Omar’s spiritual mentor, Sheikh Jalal al Edin Haqani, and his son Saraj al Edin Hagani, the Taliban’s operations chief?
7. Where does al Qaeda get its financing and who are its sources?
8. Where do al Qaeda fighters hold their weapons training exercises?
Locations and codenames of US prison camps provided
Without naming his sources, Qaid offered detailed information on additional American and Afghan detention camps in Afghanistan – with their codenames. Facilities on the lines of the Bagram prison, where he and his comrades were held, are located at the Kandahar military air base in the south. Only al Qaeda members rated by the Americans as senior are kept there, he said; the others are sent to camps managed by Afghans in the interior. Some are also shipped to prisons in Jordan, Egypt, the UAE and Morocco. Of late, the Americans had begun transferring prisoners to Indonesia.
The escaped al Qaeda captive claimed that the most important American prison in the country, where he and his comrades were held, is located at the end of the Bagram airfield’s runway. It is there that the Americans hold Arab al Qaeda prisoners. They call it the Dark Camp. Despite repeated promises to the Red Cross to shut the camp down, it remains operational.
Another American prison in Kabul is located, says the escaped al Qaeda fugitive, in the former palace of the ousted Taliban regime’s leader Mullah Omar. There is one more American jail called Presidency 2 in Kabul and another in the northern Valley of Panjshir.
Qaid’s letter to his friends ends by saying that he has collected many important pieces of information about the Americans, but he will share them only with people he trusts whom he will brief by a different form of communication.
“The knife that slaughtered the guards at Bagram and set us free is now on its way to other places,” said Hassan Qaid. This is taken to mean that further jailbreaks are in the works in Afghanistan on the lines of the escape of the four al Qaeda operatives from Bagram.
Incidentally, US officials in Kabul have never confirmed the escape of this foursome or verified the claim that prison warders were murdered.