KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- The chief of Osama bin Laden's terrorist training camps in Afghanistan was under U.S. Marine custody Saturday at Kandahar airport, where he will be questioned about the activities of the al-Qaida network.
U.S. authorities hope that Ibn Al-Shayk al-Libi, one of the highest-ranking members of bin Laden's organization to be taken into custody, will eventually provide valuable intelligence.
Marine Lt. James Jarvis said at a daily news briefing that al-Libi is eventually expected "to be rotated out of here," but did not say when. An eventual destination could be Guantanamo, the U.S. military base in Cuba that is being prepared as a detention center for prisoners from al-Qaida and its ousted Taliban allies.
Al-Libi was among a new batch of prisoners who arrived Saturday at the Kandahar airport, which is under Marine control, from Pakistan, where scores of al-Qaida and Taliban soldiers are believed to be hiding, or from Shebergan in northern Afghanistan. About 275 prisoners are being held at the airport.
Earlier, a Red Cross official in the Afghan capital, Kabul, told The Associated Press, on condition of anonymity, that about 3,000 prisoners were being held in Shebergan under the custody of anti-Taliban forces. Though the exact number of prisoners in jails throughout the country has not been documented, it is likely around 8,000, most of them Afghans.
The Marines, who will soon be handing over the airport to the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, have been increasing patrols outside the grounds "day and night" to stretch their area of control and improve security for flights, Jarvis said. Wider security in the area now is supplied by troops loyal to Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha.
Flights currently come only at night. United Nations and Red Cross humanitarian flights will eventually fly into Kandahar, Jarvis said, but U.S. forces want to clean out any possible pockets of Taliban or al-Qaida loyalists that might be within firing range.
"There are still surface-to-air threats around the airport," Jarvis said. "We can see small things, for example, muzzle flashes. ... It just takes a lone guy with a Stinger hiding out and biding his time. We're very concerned with a scenario like that."
The United States supplied shoulder-fired Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to Afghans fighting the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.
U.S. forces are still identifying where pockets of Taliban and al-Qaida loyalists might be located, Jarvis said.
In Washington, a senior defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday that the United States has arranged for Pakistan to hand over the Taliban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. He was arrested Thursday.
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