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Afghan war prisoner born in U.S. moved to military jail in Virginia

| Saturday, April 6, 2002

WASHINGTON (AP) — An American-born prisoner from the Afghan war was transferred Friday from a U.S. Navy base in Cuba to a military jail in Virginia while the Justice Department sought to decide his legal status.

Yasser Esam Hamdi, 22, was among 300 captives held in makeshift cells at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is the first to be moved off the island. He was flown to Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia in a C-130 transport plane and placed under 24-hour guard in an isolated cell at the naval brig, or jail.

In a brief statement confirming the transfer, the Pentagon made no mention of Hamdi's future status.

"Given the likelihood that Hamdi is an American citizen, it was deemed appropriate to move him to the United States," it said. "As a captured combatant, Hamdi remains in the control of the Department of Defense."

He had been at Guantanamo Bay since Feb. 11.

Hamdi was captured with fighters of the former ruling Taliban militia and the al-Qaida terror network after a November prison uprising in the northern Afghan town of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters yesterday that because Hamdi spoke English when he was captured, officials knew there was a possibility that he might be American. Franks said the matter had not been resolved when Hamdi was transferred early this year to Guantanamo Bay along with other prisoners captured in Afghanistan.

Hamdi arrived at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia yesterday afternoon aboard a C-130 transport plane. A short time later he was flown to Norfolk Naval Station, where officials said he would stay behind bars for an unspecified period.

It remained unclear when the Justice Department would take custody of the prisoner.

Justice officials recently located a birth certificate backing up Hamdi's claim he was born in Baton Rouge, La., in 1979, while his Saudi parents worked there. He went to Saudi Arabia with his parents while still a small child, officials said. It was unclear, however, whether Hamdi may have later renounced his citizenship.

He is the second American citizen captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Franks said he knew of no others among the hundreds of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters taken prisoner who claim to be U.S. citizens.

U.S. officials have released no details about Hamdi's role in the fighting in Afghanistan or his role in either the Taliban or al-Qaida.

Hamdi could be charged with crimes in the federal court based in Alexandria, Va. His landing in Virginia gave the federal court there jurisdiction over any criminal charges.

No civilian criminal charges have been filed against Hamdi.

John Walker Lindh, a former Californian captured at the same Afghan prison as Hamdi last November, is awaiting trial in the Alexandria federal court, just a few miles from the Pentagon. He is charged with conspiring to murder Americans, providing support and services to foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, and using firearms and destructive devices during crimes of violence.

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