Top Al Qaeda Suspect Escapes

Flags of US and Afghanistan with hands bound and barb wire
A suspected top al Qaeda operative who escaped from a U.S.-run detention facility in Afghanistan poses a serious threat to Southeast Asian security, anti-terror officials said Wednesday. Some said Washington failed to tell them Omar al-Farouq was free.

Al-Farouq, born in Kuwait to Iraqi parents, was considered one of Osama bin Laden's top lieutenants in Southeast Asia until Indonesian authorities captured him in 2002 and turned him over to the United States.

It was not clear how he and three other suspected Arab terrorists broke free from a heavily fortified detention facility in Bagram in July — though they reportedly claimed in a video broadcast earlier this month that they picked the lock of their cell.

Several razor-wire fences surround the base and areas outside the perimeter remain mined from Afghanistan's civil war and Soviet occupation. Military teams patrol constantly and the main entrance is a series of heavily guarded checkpoints.

Though the escape was widely reported at the time, al-Farouq was identified by another name.

The U.S. military only confirmed this week that the suspected terrorist — who lived in Indonesia for years, allegedly setting up terror training camps — was among the four.

Indonesian and Thai intelligence officials said Wednesday that Washington had not informed them of al-Farouq's escape — even though he had been planning terrorist strikes in the region, including their own countries.

"We know nothing about it," said Maj. Gen. Ansyaad Mbai, Indonesia's anti-terror chief. "If it's true, the U.S. government ... should have informed us. This man is dangerous and his escape increases the threat of terrorism in Indonesia."

"We need to coordinate security here as soon as possible to anticipate his return," Mbai added, noting that al-Farouq's wife and two children still live in a modest concrete home about an hour's drive from the capital, Jakarta.

Mbai said al-Farouq's escape "could energize a new generation of terrorists in Southeast Asia and the world."

The chief of Thailand's National Intelligence Agency also said he had not been told that al-Farouq was free.

"He hasn't escaped, has he?" Jumpol said by telephone in Bangkok. "We don't know anything about this."

Al-Farouq was recruited into al Qaeda in the early 1990s and went to the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan from 1992 and 1995, Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based security consultant and terrorism expert, wrote in his book "Intel."

From there, he was sent to the Philippines, originally to enroll in a flight school so he could become proficient enough to commandeer a passenger plane on a suicide mission.