Report: al Qaida financier surrenders

Jan. 16, 2002 at 4:27 AM

WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- A leading financier of the al Qaida terrorist network has turned himself in at the airport in Kandahar.

CNN, quoting U.S. military sources, reported early Wednesday that the as yet unnamed financier "literally showed up at the front gate ... and is now in custody."

The financier's surrender came not long after American troops captured seven more prisoners. Military officials said it was not clear if the prisoners were from al Qaida or the Taliban, but they were captured in eastern Afghanistan, where defense officials believe al Qaida members are still at large.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is seeking criminal charges against American Taliban John Walker Lindh, Attorney General John Ashcroft said.

He will, however, be tried in a civilian court rather than in a military tribunal.

Ashcroft said a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., charged Walker with conspiracy to kill a U.S. national in Afghanistan, providing support to terrorist organizations and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.

Ashcroft said the United States couldn't ignore its own nationals involved in terrorism while seeking justice against foreigners responsible for the same crime.

"We cannot overlook attacks on America when they come from U.S. citizens," he said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush supported "the process put in place and is confident that it will end in justice."

In southern Afghanistan, U.S. troops uncovered an enemy hideout Tuesday near their base as U.S. warplanes continued bombing al Qaida and Taliban targets elsewhere in the country.

In Kabul, U.N. officials launched a $100 million appeal to help the country's interim government, saying the new Afghan rulers immediately need $70 million to pay more than 235,000 civil servants who have not been paid for eight months.

A U.S. television network repeated an earlier report that the CIA found evidence showing Osama bin Laden had left Afghanistan. The CIA had earlier denied the story as being incorrect.

And in New York, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to lift an international flight ban on Afghanistan's airline imposed in 1999 to persuade the former Taliban regime to hand over bin Laden.

U.S. forces in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar discovered an underground tunnel near their base where Taliban and al Qaida fighters had stashed assault weapons.

They discovered the tunnel while following seven armed men, who were seen entering a dilapidated, mud building close to the base. The men disappeared when challenged by U.S. troops.

In a raid on the site, U.S. soldiers discovered assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. Demolition experts then blew up the site, located just several hundred yards from the U.S. base.

Unidentified gunmen attacked the base last week as a U.S. plane was taking off for Cuba with the first batch of Taliban and al Qaida prisoners.

The Kandahar base is the main detention center for prisoners taken during the U.S. campaign against Afghanistan that began Oct. 7 in response to the Taliban's refusal to hand over bin Laden, the man suspected of masterminding the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

ABC News confirmed an earlier report Tuesday that the CIA believed bin Laden had escaped from the Tora Bora cave complex in eastern Afghanistan and into Pakistan around the first week of December.

CIA officials told ABC a captured al Qaida fighter claims to have witnessed bin Laden turning over operational control to one of his deputies.

"I think that most intelligence analysts are absolutely convinced at this point that bin Laden has slipped the noose and has left Afghanistan and Pakistan," said Vince Cannistraro, an analyst for ABC news and former CIA counter-terrorism chief.

The CIA believes that bin Laden left behind a tape-recorded message to fool U.S. forces in the area, which was transmitted only after he was long gone, the report said.

The claim coincides with reports that U.S. forces have expanded their search for bin Laden, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other Taliban and al Qaida fugitives to other areas of Afghanistan after mopping up their operations in the eastern part of the country.

Also relatives of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States continue their three-day stay in Kabul to meet Afghans who lost family in the U.S. bombing campaign.

Organizers hope the visit will help heal wounds and promote reconciliation between the peoples. An international non-governmental organization called Global Exchange, which promotes people-to-people contacts, organized the trip.

More than 3,000 people were killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and 2,000-4,000 Afghans are believed to have died in the U.S. bombings, Global Exchange said.

In another development, Clark Russell Bowers, 37, of Harvest, Ala., was allegedly kidnapped in Afghanistan while delivering medical supplies last week.

His wife reported his abduction to the State Department and the office of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., a longtime friend. The State Department was investigating the report.

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