KOHAT, Aug 5: The prime accused in whose house 10 armymen were killed by 42 Al Qaeda members in Azam Warsak area of the South Waziristan Agency in June, and recently surrendered to the local authorities, has admitted to have provided shelter to the families of Arab and Chechen fighters during the last six months, a highly-placed source told Dawn on Monday.

A member of the joint interrogation team comprising officials of the Inter Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence and Intelligence Bureau, confided to Dawn that the accused told the team that this was the third group of Al Qaeda members which stayed in the house of the accused since December last.

The last group of Al Qaeda members, mostly Chechens, stayed there for 40 days before fleeing after killing 10 armymen.

Accused Abdul Khaliq Sarki Khel met the Al Qaeda members only once during that period, the member of the intelligence team disclosed. When Abdul Khaliq was declared a fugitive he stayed in Bannu, Rawalpindi and Peshawar with his friends. It was only after a senior politician assured him of mild punishment that he decided to surrender to the authorities.

He further told the authorities that the earlier two groups which had stayed at his house, comprised the wives and children of the Al Qaeda members.

Abdul Khaliq was brought to Wana from the house of a veteran Pukhtoon politician in Peshawar amid tight security. The politician agreed to hand over the accused to the government after securing guarantees that he would not be sent to Cuba and would be tried under the tribal law.

The administration has demolished two houses of the accused, including the one where the 42 Al Qaeda members had been hiding since March, besides confiscating his property.

He was also sentenced to 12 years in prison and a fine of Rs4 million was also imposed.

The local authorities arrested 60 elders of the Sarki Khel tribe to force them to present the accused before the tribal court for trial. Three of the arrested men admitted that they had provided shelter to Al Qaeda members, saying that it was their religious duty to help them. The accused were being questioned in Wana by the Intelligence personal.

Later, the authorities recovered the belongings of the Al Qaeda members from their houses which included a black-board and maps of sensitive places.

A chieftain, who handed over the accused to the administration, told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the administration had promised to take a mild action against the accused and not to hand him over to the US authorities.

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