Monday, July 11, 2005

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Four Arab terror suspects broke out of a U.S. military detention facility in Afghanistan yesterday — the first time anyone has escaped the prison — and rescuers found the body of a missing U.S. commando.

The escape from the heavily guarded lockup at the main U.S. base in Bagram sparked a manhunt for the suspects, identified as Arabs from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Libya.

U.S. soldiers set up roadblocks, and helicopters clattered low over villages near the base north of the capital, Kabul.

It was another setback for the U.S. military as it struggles with insurgent fighting that has left more than 700 people dead in three months and threatened to sabotage three years of progress toward peace. This past weekend, 22 Afghan soldiers were killed, including 10 who were beheaded.

The discovery of the body of the U.S. Navy SEAL in Kunar province on Sunday ended a desperate search for the last member of a four-man Special Forces unit that disappeared after being ambushed June 28 in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

One of the four was rescued July 3, and two were found dead the next day.

U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said the U.S. commando whose body was found Sunday had died in fighting soon after the ambush, and he denied the assertion of a purported Taliban spokesman that the SEAL was captured alive and beheaded.

“There have been claims of being dropped on a mountain wearing red clothes; there have been claims of being beheaded,” he said. But “there was no indication supporting the claims. … This individual was never in custody; he was never defamed or disgraced.”

The colonel said the injuries on the commando’s body were consistent with “a firefight, a combat operation with small-arms fire” and rocket-propelled grenade rounds.

Col. Yonts said the commando’s body was found near where a U.S. helicopter that was bringing reinforcements was shot down in Korangal Valley. Sixteen troops died in the June 28 crash, the deadliest single attack on the U.S. military since the war began here in 2001.

The four terrorist suspects who escaped yesterday from the U.S. military detention facility at Bagram were identified as Abdullah from Syria, Mohammed al-Qatari from Saudi Arabia, Mahmood Ahmad from Kuwait and Abulbakar Mohammed Hassan from Libya, according to local police Chief Abdulrahman Mawalana.

“They are considered dangerous and are suspected terrorists,” U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Moore said.

Another military spokesman, Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara, said it was the first time anyone has broken out of Bagram’s heavily guarded detention facility, where most of about 500 detainees in Afghanistan are held.

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