Top al-Qaida Operative Escapes

Omar al-Farouq, once a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, escaped from a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan shortly before a trial in which he was to testify against an Army reserve sergeant accused of abusing Bagram detainees.

Pentagon: Top al-Qaida Operative Escaped (AP)

A man once considered a top al-Qaida operative escaped from a U.S.-run detention facility in Afghanistan and cannot testify against the soldier who allegedly mistreated him, a defense lawyer involved in a prison abuse case said Tuesday.

Omar al-Farouq was one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants in Southeast Asia until Indonesian authorities captured him in the summer of 2002 and turned him over to the United States. A Pentagon official in Washington confirmed Tuesday evening that al-Farouq escaped from a U.S. detention facility in Bagram, Afghanistan, on July 10. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

An Army lawyer for Sgt. Alan J. Driver, a reservist accused of abusing Bagram detainees, asked Tuesday where al-Farouq was and what the Army had done to find him in time for Driver’s court proceedings.

Capt. John B. Parker, a prosecutor, said al-Farouq and three others escaped from the Bagram detention center and have not been found. “If we find him … we will make him available,” Parker said.

This looks very, very bad on a whole number of levels. Either the U.S. military is unable to guard top al Qaeda lieutenants (although, granted, there seem to have been hundreds of them) or it is willing to allow them to escape to avoid testifying against accused abusers.

My strong guess is that it’s the former. One wonders, though, why al-Farouq was still being detained in Afghanistan rather than in a more secure facility elsewhere such as Guantanimo.

Update (0701): It gets worse.

U.S. Tightens Afghan Prison Security (AP)

Security has been tightened at the U.S. military prison in Afghanistan following the escape of a suspected al-Qaida leader, a U.S. official said Wednesday, as Indonesian terror officials accused Washington of failing to inform them of the breakout.

Omar al-Farouq, born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents, was considered one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants in Southeast Asia until Indonesian authorities captured him in 2002 and turned him over to the United States. He was one of four suspected Arab terrorists to escape in July from the detention facility at Bagram, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan. It was not clear how long he had been held in Afghanistan.

Although the escape was widely reported at the time, al-Farouq was identified by an alias and the U.S. military only confirmed Tuesday that he was among those who fled. A video the four men made of themselves after they escaped from Bagram was broadcast recently on Dubai-based television station Al-Arabiya, according to its Islamabad bureau chief, Bakar Atyani. He declined to give other details, including how the station received the video.

An Indonesian anti-terror official, Maj. Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, on Wednesday sharply criticized the U.S. government for failing to inform him that al-Farouq was no longer behind bars. “We know nothing about the escape of Omar al-Farouq,” he said. “He is a dangerous terrorist for us, his escape will increase the threat of terrorism in Indonesia. “We need to coordinate security here as soon as possible to anticipate his return,” he said. “The escape of al-Farouq could bring fresh wind to the operation of terrorism and could energize the new movement of terrorist actors in Southeast Asia and the world.”

But a top security consultant in Jakarta played down concerns that al-Farouq would make his way back to Southeast Asia and rejoin Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. “He’s Iraqi after all. If he’s not hiding out (in Afghanistan or Pakistan), he’s probably headed to Iraq to join the fight there,” said Ken Conboy, who recently published a book on Jemaah Islamiyah.

So, not only do we let this clown escape but we don’t let our ally, who turned him over to us in the first place, know about it so that they can prepare for his return and/or help recapture him? Amazing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. […] As James Joyner notes, this looks very bad. Either the military cannot guard it’s prisoners, or somebody(ies) intentionally let this prisoner escape to keep him from testifying. […]

  2. This is what happens when you don’t follow the Geneva Conventions and try them in the field, and then execute them.

  3. Anderson says:

    Let’s see: we can’t use our regular prisons, but have to create secret CIA prisons … so that we can hold our prisoners in absolute security?

    Something tells me that if this joker had been at Leavenworth, or next door to the Unabomber, he’d still be in custody.

  4. dfsdf says:

    So, not only do we let this clown escape but we don’t let our ally, who turned him over to us in the first place, know about it so that they can prepare for his return and/or help recapture him? Amazing.

    With the revelation of the CIA secret prison system, the probable scenario is that the al-Farouq escape is a hoax. He is likely still in US custody, but now doesn’t have to testify in the torture case.

    The notion that a high-profile prisoner can escape from a US POW camp is absurd. This is cleary a psyops.

  5. Barry says:

    Look at the good side: ‘Top Al Qaida guys’ seem to be pretty common on the ground. We’ll probably pick up a six-pack of them this week, maybe a dozen or so.

  6. Omar al-Faruq was to spy on al Qaeda

    Nobody wants to “out” Omar for the duplicitous, double-crossing traitor that he is, because both sides want to believe he still belongs to them.