Prisoner transfers stepped up

 

Kabul - US troops have stepped up the transfer of al-Qaeda suspects from Afghan custody to a base in Kandahar where they will be interrogated by FBI agents.

A convoy from the Shibergan prison in northern Afghanistan moved a batch of prisoners from 14 different countries to a waiting plane, which flew them to an American makeshift jail in the southern city.

"We're taking them out of here, and taking them down to Kandahar as quickly as we can," said Maj Joseph Fenty. "We're primarily looking at detainees that we can use for collecting intelligence." Maj Fenty said the prisoners, thought to number at least 70, were searched, medically tested and questioned by his soldiers. "We feel we have an adequate-sized force here to protect ourselves as well as the detainees." About 300 of Shibergan's 3,000 prisoners are non-Afghans.

American officials said some prisoners will be sent to the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba, where they could face military tribunals authorised by President Bush.

Another eight prisoners, including the American Taliban, Mr John Walker Lindh, were being held on the assault ship USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea.

Four teams of FBI agents and Pakistani intelligence officials in the Pakistani town of Kohat are said to be interrogating more than 130 Arabs suspected of being Osama bin Laden followers.