WASHINGTON, March 14: The Pentagon said on Friday that CIA had captured a high-level Al Qaeda operative who helped Osama bin Laden escape from Afghanistan in 2001.

The US Defence Department also confirmed that Mohammad Rahim, an Afghan national, was now in US custody at Gunatanamo Bay, Cuba, but refused to disclose when or where he was captured.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told a briefing in Washington that Rahim is a close associate of Osama and had ties to Al Qaeda organisations throughout the Middle East.

Mr Whitman said Rahim helped prepare the hideout for Osama at Tora Bora when the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. He also assisted Al Qaeda leader’s escape from Tora Bora when US forces entered the area to catch Osama.

The Pentagon spokesman said Rahim had also attempted to procure chemicals for a plan to use against Nato forces in Afghanistan and to recruit people with access to US military facilities.

Meanwhile, some US media outlets published a statement of CIA Director Michael Hayden, saying that Rahim was detained in the summer of 2007.

“Rahim is a tough, seasoned jihadist,” Mr Hayden wrote in his memo to CIA employees. “Rahim is perhaps best known in counter-terror circles as a personal facilitator and translator for Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.” Director Hayden said Rahim was proficient in several languages and familiar with the border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Spokesman Whitman, however, declined to say where or how Rahim was initially detained.

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