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ighting terror

Pursuit reveals training ground

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 4, 2003


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Heavy pounding by U.S. fighter aircraft drove Taliban holdouts from their mountain hideout, where cleanup crews Thursday found a transit camp and a staging ground for hit and run assaults by the religious militia and their allies.

"We discovered a base with tents, food, weapons. It was here that Taliban coming from Pakistan would stay before moving out to other parts of the country," Fazluddin Agha, district police chief of Spinboldak, told the Associated Press.

U.S. air support launched from Bagram Air Base pounded the Tor Ghar mountain range, where about 60 Taliban fighters were dug in after fleeing a border village during fighting a day earlier.

Col. Roger King, an Army spokesman, said Thursday that more than 35,000 pounds of ordnance was dropped or fired from Harrier jets, B-1 bombers, A-10 Thunderbolts and helicopter gunships on the rebel positions over a 14-hour span.

He said the operation was continuing Thursday.

Several Afghan fighters were injured, as were their Taliban enemies, Agha said. He said the Taliban were being led by local commander Hafiz Abdul Rahman.

"We have found two bodies of Taliban fighters and are looking for Rahman," Agha said.

U.S. or coalition forces haven't found such a large group of suspected Taliban in several months, King said. "We haven't seen more than 20 at a time in a long time."

There were no reports of U.S. casualties.

Witness pleads guilty, will testify in terror trial

DETROIT -- A key government witness in the trial of four men accused of operating a "sleeper" terrorist cell pleaded guilty Thursday to 10 federal charges of fraud and misuse of a visa, clearing the way for him to testify.

Youssef Hmimssa, 32, could testify next week in the trial that began late last month against four North African men accused of conspiring to provide material support or resources to terrorists. The trial is the first in the United States for an alleged terror cell detected after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The government says the four defendants attempted to recruit Hmimssa and wanted him to make false documents to get people into the country illegally. Defense lawyers in the terrorism case say Hmimssa is a liar who is trying save himself.

Charges against Hmimssa and the others stem from a raid on a Detroit apartment six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Prosecutors say the raid turned up a day planner that detailed planned attacks on an American air base in Turkey and a hospital in Jordan, as well as a videotape of U.S. landmarks including Disneyland and Las Vegas' MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. Authorities also found fake IDs and documents, including some with Hmimssa's photo.

Defense lawyers have said that the tape is an innocuous travel video and that the planner belonged to someone else.

Three of the conspiracy defendants -- Karim Koubriti, 24, Ahmed Hannan, 34, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud, 22 -- were arrested in Detroit at the time of the raid. Hmimssa was arrested later that month in Iowa, and the alleged handler of the cell, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, was arrested in November 2002 in North Carolina.

All of the men are from Morocco except Ali-Haimoud, an Algerian.

Al-Qaida suspects detained in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Local intelligence agencies, working with U.S. agents, arrested two Middle Eastern men they suspect are operatives of the al-Qaida terrorist network, officials said Thursday.

Interior Minister Iftikhar Ahmad confirmed the arrests in the northwestern city of Peshawar, but declined to give details about the suspects or say what position they were believed to hold in Osama bin Laden's organization.

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