- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

A senior al Qaeda operative who worked to procure chemicals to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan and who helped Osama bin Laden escape from U.S. forces at Tora Bora in 2001 was handed over to Pentagon officials this week by the CIA.

U.S. counterterrorism officials categorized the capture of Afghan national Muhammad Rahim as “very significant” in the war on terror and illustrative of significant gains made against terrorist groups in recent months.

Rahim is a tough, seasoned jihadist, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said. His combat experience, which dates back to the 1980s, includes plots against U.S. and Afghan targets. He reportedly sought chemicals for one attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and tried to recruit individuals with access to American military facilities there.

Rahim, who is proficient in several languages and familiar with the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, was a courier for al Qaeda with high-level contacts in many of the terrorist cells throughout the region.

His ties to bin Laden include delivering personal messages for the terrorist leader and others. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, he helped prepare the Tora Bora complex along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as a hideout for the al Qaeda leader while U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban regime that had been harboring him. He also assisted in al Qaeda’s exodus from the area in late 2001, as U.S. forces closed in.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman made the announcement today saying “at the time of [Rahim’s] capture, he was providing support to anti-coalition militias, and groups allied with al Qaeda.”

Rahim, who is from Afghanistan’s Nangahar province, had close ties to al Qaeda organizations throughout the Middle East and “is one of [bin Laden’s] most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists,” Mr. Whitman added.

Rahim was taken into U.S. custody last summer by the CIA, and although defense officials would not disclose where he was captured, he was known to have been active in the tribal regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

CIA officials transferred Rahim this week to the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Hayden said in a recent interview with The Washington Times that al Qaeda’s regrouping and gaining “safe haven” in remote tribal-controlled areas of Pakistan, and inside Afghanistan, posed a significant national security risk in the war on terror.

“It is, it has become more of a safe haven for al Qaeda,” he said. “There is more of a nexus between al Qaeda and various Pashtun extremist and separatist groups than we’ve seen in the past.”

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