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East African detainee arrives at Guantánamo

Days after being rebuffed by a war court, the Pentagon Wednesday announced it has added another high-value captive -- an Islamic jurist from Somalia -- to the so-called enemy combatant population at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

A Defense Department announcement described the newest war-on-terror captive to arrive at the remote U.S. Navy base -- Abdullahi Sudi Arale -- as a ''suspected'' al Qaeda member from East Africa who had served as a network courier between the Horn of Africa and Pakistan.

It accused him of running guns and explosives and trafficking in counterfeit documents to help foreign fighters get into Somalia.

It also said Arale had been in Pakistan until eight months ago, when he returned to Somalia. He has held a leadership role in the Somali Council of Islamic Courts.

The United States considers the Somali Council in league with al Qaeda, arguing that it has given sanctuary to both al Qaeda members and sympathizers.

The Pentagon's decision to send the new captive to Guantánamo appears to be part of a recent emphasis on tilting interrogation toward the Horn of Africa, at times considered a hotbed of anti-American Islamic extremism.

The U.S. military has operations in and around the Horn of Africa, mostly at sea but also in Djibouti, where the Pentagon has since spring 2002 operated a war-on-terror outpost aimed at al Qaeda.

In late March, the Pentagon said it had expanded its detainee population by bringing in Abdul Malik, who allegedly was involved in a 2002 suicide bombing of a Mombassa, Kenya, hotel frequented by Israelis. Dozens of people were hurt and 17 killed in that attack at the Paradise Hotel -- on the same day as an ill-fated effort to down an Israeli passenger plane by air-to-ground missile.

Then, on May 2, Guantánamo's intelligence chief said in an interview with The Miami Herald that Abdul Malik was being interrogated there. The civilian in charge of the interrogation and analysis unit at the Navy base said the new arrival was of ''significant interest,'' already suggesting an East Africa orientation.

The Pentagon did not immediately provide details on the newest captive's age, or how long he has been in U.S. custody. But spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith said he arrived at Guantánamo ''this week,'' meaning he was likely already in the U.S. military's transfer pipeline before this week's military commissions session.

The Defense Department declined to release his photo.

The announcement said the arrival of the latest captive raised the detainee population to ``approximately 385.''

The International Committee of the Red Cross maintains precise records of the Guantánamo census. Smith said an ICRC delegate would be allowed to see Arale, but did not clarify whether it had earlier been afforded access to him.

The announcement came just two days after two U.S. military judges separately tossed out war crimes charges against the only two Guantánamo captives facing a military commission.

At issue was the sweeping U.S. designation of Guantánamo captives as ''enemy combatants,'' without distinguishing between whether they were permitted to engage in war under international law or whether they were so-called ``unlawful combatants.''

The White House has said it disagrees with the two judges -- one a Navy captain, another an Army colonel -- who dismissed charges against Canadian captive Omar Khadr, 20, and Yemeni Salim Hamdan, 36, both of whom were captured in Afghanistan and have been held at Guantánamo for about five years.

Wednesday's announcement also said that Arale would go before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal ``to review an unclassified summary of the evidence against him and contest his enemy combatant status.''

It made no mention of the current controversy surrounding those status hearings.

To see the announcement: www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=10976.

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