- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 2, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — Prison doors and cells have been fortified at the U.S. military jail in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said yesterday as details emerged of a breakout by a suspected al Qaeda leader and three others who picked locks and evaded a minefield.

The Pentagon’s belated confirmation of the identity of one of the four who escaped in July, Omar al-Farouq, sparked anger in Southeast Asia, where he was one of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants.

Some officials in Indonesia, where al-Farouq was captured in 2002 before being handed over to U.S. authorities, accused Washington of failing to inform them of the escape.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales described the apparent breakdown in communication as a “serious problem” and told CNN that it would be investigated.

Although the escape was widely reported in July, U.S. authorities at the time gave only an alias to identify al-Farouq, who was born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents.

A security consultant in Indonesia, Ken Conboy, said al-Farouq joined al Qaeda in the early 1990s and trained in Afghanistan for three years before unsuccessfully trying to enroll at a flight school in the Philippines so he could commandeer an airplane on a suicide mission.

Al-Farouq later plotted to stage car and truck bombings at U.S. embassies across Southeast Asia on or close to the first anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, but the plan was thwarted and he was captured, Mr. Conboy said.

The four men boasted about their breakout on a video broadcast Oct. 18 on Dubai-based Al Arabiya, two editors at the television station said on the condition of anonymity.

The editors said the four Arabs claimed to have plotted their escape on a Sunday when many of the Americans on the base were off duty. One of the four, Muhammad Hassan, thought to be Libyan, said he picked the lock of their cell.

In the video, apparently shot in Afghanistan, the men show fellow militants a map of the base and the location of their cell.

More than 500 terror suspects are held in the prison, a plain-looking building next to runways and the command center at Bagram, the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan. Several razor-wire fences surround the base, and areas outside remain mined from Afghanistan’s quarter-century of war.

Military officials have declined to elaborate on how the men escaped, but say they are the only detainees who have managed to do so.

A spokesman said yesterday that an investigation into the breakout turned up weaknesses in security and that these had been corrected.

“Physical security upgrades include improvements to an external door and holding cells,” Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said.

An Indonesian counterterror official, Maj. Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, criticized the U.S. government for failing to inform him that al-Farouq had escaped.

“We know nothing about the escape of Omar al-Farouq,” Gen. Mbai said. “He is a dangerous terrorist for us. His escape will increase the threat of terrorism in Indonesia.”

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