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Top al Qaeda leader held aboard U.S. warship

Marines load a Taliban detainee onto a truck at their base at Kandahar, Afghanistan.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The man who U.S. officials say helped run al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan is being held Tuesday aboard a U.S. warship in the Arabian Sea.

Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi was captured last week and held over the weekend at the U.S. Marine base at Kandahar before being sent to the assault carrier USS Bataan, a senior official said. Al-Libi was listed among the most wanted al Qaeda leaders, and President Bush ordered his assets frozen in September along with those of other top al Qaeda members.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Tuesday that U.S. forces have 364 Taliban and al Qaeda suspects in custody. Of those, 302 are in Kandahar, and eight are held aboard the Bataan, including al-Libi and John Walker, the American Taliban fighter.

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Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, was transferred from the ship to Bagram air base near Kabul for questioning, military sources said. Myers said 38 people are being held at Bagram and another 16 at Mazar-e Sharif.

U.S. and Pakistani officials have interrogated Zaeef in recent days about the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader blamed for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is making final preparations to move the first of several hundred captured Taliban and al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan to a U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Myers said the first transfer of detainees will take place "soon." Military officials are working steadily to "make sure that the facilities at Guantanamo are adequate to the task," he said.

Specially outfitted C-141 cargo planes will bring the suspected terrorists from Bagram to the Caribbean base. The flights could begin as soon as Wednesday, a Pentagon official said.

Officials said a number of measures are being taken to ensure the detainees are kept under control during the transfer flights, including using secure enclosures to confine them. Air Force crews providing security on the flights have received special training at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

The U.S. Southern Command in Miami, Florida, is establishing maximum-security facilities to accommodate 2,000 detainees at the base. The first of about 1,000 U.S. troops began deploying Sunday to Guantanamo Bay to set up the maximum-security facility.

-- CNN correspondents Jamie McIntyre, Barbara Starr and Andrea Koppel contributed to this report.




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