Mystery surrounds whereabouts of al-Qaida captive

Mystery today surrounded the whereabouts of al-Qaida mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan over the weekend.

Mystery today surrounded the whereabouts of al-Qaida mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was captured in Pakistan over the weekend.

Some say he was brought to a US base in Afghanistan after his capture on Saturday. Others say he is on a US warship far out to sea. But the Americans are refusing to say where he is.

Mohammed’s arrest was a big victory in the US war on terror. He allegedly masterminded the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, and is said to be the third most powerful man in al-Qaida.

Other than acknowledging the existence of a holding facility at Bagram – and a similar one at a US base in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar – US military officials are remaining tight-lipped.

The military does not comment on individual prisoners, even to confirm their presence, and they would not say how many suspects are being held at the base, or under what conditions.

“It has been a long standing policy that CJTF-180 does not give out the names or nationalities of detainees,” said US Major Bob Hepner. CJTF-180 is the military term for coalition joint forces.

Hepner said the holding facility, a tan two-storey building surrounded by a concrete wall and barbed wire, could hold up to 100 people. He would not say how many suspects are there now.

Methods of interrogation at the base have been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, especially after a Washington Post report last year claimed techniques included forcing inmates to stand or kneel for hours in black hoods or spray-painted goggles, holding them in “awkward, painful positions,” and depriving them of medical care or sleep with a “24-hour bombardment of lights”.

The military flatly denies the report, saying the prisoners are all treated humanely and allowed regularly to meet representatives of the International Red Cross.

The US maintains it strictly adheres to international law prohibiting torture, but officials say they can use psychological inducements to get suspects to talk.

US and Pakistani officials have said off the record that Mohammed is in American custody outside Pakistan, but Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayyat says Mohammed and two other men arrested over the weekend remain in Pakistani custody and there are no immediate plans to turn any of them over to the Americans.

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