Three senior Al-Qaeda leaders escaped Bagram prison: Pentagon official

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Three senior al-Qaeda leaders escaped from a US military-run prison in Afghanistan in July, a Pentagon official said, confirming that one of them was Omar al-Farouq, a reputed lieutenant of Osama bin Laden.

Al-Farouq's escape came to public light Tuesday in the court-martial at Fort Bliss, Texas, of a soldier accused of abusing prisoners in Afghanistan.

He was among four detainees who escaped on July 10 from a detention center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan and are still at large, the Pentagon official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

Al-Farouq "was a senior level insurgent" accused of violent crimes, the official told AFP.

"I have heard that two of the other three were of a similar level to Farouq," he said.

Neither the official nor Pentagon spokesmen would identify the other escapees by name.

The US military in Afghanistan reported the escape of four detainees from Bagram shortly after it happened, but gave no names or other identifying details.

Those emerged for the first time at court-martial proceedings at Fort Bliss against Sergeant Alan Driver, who was accused of mistreating detainees at the Bagram facility, including al-Farouq.

When a defense lawyer asked why al-Farouq was not testifying, prosecutor Captain John Parker said it was because he had escaped from the Bagram detention facility, a spokeswoman at the base said.

Following the escape, the US military mounted an aggressive but unsuccessful search for the detainees, officials said.

It was not clear how the four escaped from the maximum security facility, which is believed to have housed top Al-Qaeda captives.

"Security procedures were bolstered immediately after the escape," the US military in Afghanistan said in a statement.

Al-Farouq, a Kuwaiti national, was reputed to be a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda.

He was captured in Indonesia in 2002 and turned over to US authorities.

11/02/2005 16:43

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