12 March 2005

Belfast Telegraph

Flanigan kidnapper now held in US base
Armagh aid worker's abductor captured

By Sean O'Driscoll
11 March 2005

The self-confessed organiser of the abduction of Armagh aid worker, Annetta Flanigan, has been handed over to US authorities for interrogation in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has said.

Syed Akbar Agha, the leader of the Taliban's splinter faction Jaish-e-Muslimeen, has been handed over to the US authorities at a US military base in Bagram, 50km north of Kabul in Afghanistan.

He was arrested along with two other former Taliban officials in Pakistan and the three were handed over to the US authorities last Friday, according to Afghanistan's Pajhwok news agency, quoting senior Afghan intelligence officials.

While Pentagon officials say privately that Akbar Agha has been detained, US military spokesman Major Steve Wollman said he could neither confirm nor deny the reports.

Akbar Agha has never made a secret of his involvement in the kidnapping of Ms Flanigan, telling western news agencies last year that she and two other UN election workers would be released if Afghan authorities released 26 Islamic fundamentalist prisoners.

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed confirmed to Associated Press last week that Pakistani intelligence officers had captured Akbar Agha in Karachi and that he and the other two former Taliban officials were being held in different parts of the country.

A Taliban spokesman, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, confirmed to an Afghan news agency Akbar Agha has been arrested along with the former Taliban military commander Mulla Abdul Razzaq, but said he could not confirm the third arrest, said to be that of a former high-ranking Taliban police officer.

The Taliban has sought to distance itself from the Jaish splinter group.

Agha, a former warlord, joined the Taliban as it rose to power in Afghanistan in 1995. He was the Taliban commander in Maidan Shahr, capital of Wardak province west of Kabul but was later expelled by Taliban chief, Mullah Mohammad Omar.

He launched his own Jaish-al Muslimeen, or Army of Muslims, group in December 2001 after the fall of the Taliban regime.

After the kidnapping of Ms Flanigan along with the other election workers, Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali accused Agha's group of trying to disrupt Afghanistan's October 9 presidential election and suggested it had hired common criminals to carry about the abductions.

Agha told Associated Press last October the three would be released in exchange for the release of 26 prisoners held in Afghanistan and other countries, including the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

However, Afghan authorities say the three captured UN aid workers were released without any exchange of prisoners.

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