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Defense Department Takes Custody of al Qaeda Leader

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 27, 2007 – The Defense Department announced today that it has taken a senior al Qaeda operative into custody at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The detainee, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, was transferred to Guantanamo this week from CIA custody and is now under the control of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, told reporters. Abd al-Hadi is considered a high-value detainee, like the group of 14 detainees who were transferred to Guantanamo from CIA custody in September, Whitman said.

At the time of his detention, Abd al-Hadi was one of al Qaeda’s highest-ranking and most experienced senior operatives, Whitman said. Abd al-Hadi was one of al Qaeda’s key paramilitary commanders in Afghanistan from the late 1990s, and from 2002 to 2004, was in charge of cross-border attacks in Afghanistan against coalition forces, he said. In recent years, Abd al-Hadi also directed plots to assassinate perceived opponents of al Qaeda, including Pakistani President Perez Musharaff and a United Nations official.

“What’s important here, I think, is that we’ve taken another bad individual that wants to do harm not only to coalition forces and the United States, but our allies around the world, off the streets, and is no longer able to plan, conduct and coordinate attacks,” Whitman said.

Abd al-Hadi was born in Mosul, Iraq, in 1961, and is a former member of the Iraqi military who spent more than 15 years in Afghanistan, according to information released by the Defense Department. Before Sept. 11, 2001, Abd al-Hadi was a member of al Qaeda’s ruling Shura council, a now-defunct advisory board to Osama bin Laden, as well as the group’s military committee.

Abd al-Hadi associated with leaders of other extremist groups allied with al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the Taliban, according to Defense Department information. Abd al-Hadi interacted was known and trusted by bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and met with al Qaeda members in Iran.

At the time of his capture, Abd al-Hadi was trying to return to Iraq to manage al Qaeda’s affairs and possibly focus on operations outside Iraq against Western targets, Whitman said. He would not discuss the details of Abd al-Hadi’s capture, as it occurred before he was in Defense Department custody.

Like all detainees who arrive at Guantanamo, Abd al-Hadi will undergo a period of in-processing and will undergo a combatant status review tribunal, which will determine his status as an enemy combatant, Whitman said. No date has been set for this tribunal, he said, but as in the cases of the other 14 high-value detainees, the Defense Department will release a redacted transcript after it takes place.

Abd al-Hadi’s transfer brings the number of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to about 385.

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