A high-level al-Qaida operative who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001 during the...

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GUANTÁNAMO BAY, Cuba — A high-level al-Qaida operative who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001 during the U.S. military operation has been captured and sent to Guantánamo Bay, the Pentagon and CIA said Friday.

Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani was captured in July in Lahore, Pakistan, by Pakistani authorities, who handed him over to the CIA, according to sources familiar with Rahim’s detention. Rahim was then kept in secret custody by the CIA until he was handed over to the Pentagon earlier this week. On Friday, he was transferred to the U.S. naval facility at Guantánamo Bay.

In a memo issued Friday to CIA employees, Director Michael Hayden said Rahim’s detention last summer “was a blow to more than one terrorist network. He gave aid to al-Qaida, the Taliban and other anti-coalition militants.”

Hayden also said Rahim’s importance within al-Qaida and “the continuing threat he presented to American interests” prompted the CIA to place him in its secret interrogation program overseas.

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The Afghani is only the 16th alleged al-Qaida member that the CIA has classified as a high-value detainee; 14 others were brought to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006, some of them after spending several years in secret CIA custody. Another was brought to the Cuba base last year.

Hayden said the Afghani reportedly sought chemicals for one attack on U.S. forces in Afghanistan and tried to recruit individuals with access to American military facilities there. He also said Rahim was proficient in several languages and familiar with the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area.

As the terrorist haven in Afghanistan was collapsing in 2001, Rahim helped prepare Tora Bora as a hideout, Hayden said.

“When al-Qaida was forced to flee from there, Rahim was part of that operation, too,” Hayden said in his letter.

Defense Department spokesman Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said Rahim had ties to al-Qaida organizations throughout the Middle East and that he had become one of bin Laden’s most trusted facilitators and procurement specialists before his detention.

In a statement, the Pentagon said Rahim, “just like previous detainees who have arrived at Guantánamo,” would undergo an orientation to help him adjust to detention rules and procedures. He will be given an internment serial number and will undergo a combatant status-review tribunal.

The International Committee of the Red Cross will be granted access to him.

There are now about 280 detainees at Guantánamo Bay.

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