Bogus Afghan Jailers May Face Prison Time
By AMIR SHAH
The Associated Press
Thursday, July 15, 2004; 4:38 AM
KABUL, Afghanistan - Three American vigilantes tricked NATO peacekeepers into helping with illegal raids, the security force said Wednesday, getting them to send explosives experts and bomb-sniffing dogs to check buildings in Kabul where they had detained suspects.
A spokesman said the men, led by former U.S. soldier Jonathan K. Idema, seemed authentic - fluent in military speak, decked out in faux U.S. Army fatigues and claiming to belong to a nonexistent task force.
"Their credibility was such that with their uniforms, their approach, our people believed they were what they said they were," said Cdr. Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force. "It was a mistake."
Afghan officials said the three men, who were arrested July 5, could spend 20 years in jail on charges of hostage-taking and assault of Afghans allegedly found hanging upside down in their private jail.
It remained unclear if the three men had been picking up innocent Afghans of if they were trailing genuine militants plotting bombings or other violence.
Henderson said Idema called in bomb-disposal teams from the International Security Assistance Force to check houses and vehicles three times from June 20-24.
The teams found "traces" of explosives in two cases, and suspicious electronic components in a third, Henderson said. He wouldn't say whether they could have been used to make bombs.
Idema, formerly of Fayetteville, N.C., appeared in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States. He claimed in a book to have fought alongside the Northern Alliance troops who allied with U.S. forces to drive out the Taliban regime.
Better known as "Jack," he returned to Kabul some weeks ago with his partners. Police say he was armed and dressed in military gear and sometimes wore a flat woolen Afghan cap.
It remains unclear if Idema, who spent three years in a U.S. federal prison for a fraud conviction in the 1990s, was hoping to bank a million-dollar reward for information leading to the capture of al-Qaida fugitives.
The U.S. military here insists that Idema, who has worked with several Western TV networks, has no connection with either it or the American government.
The U.S. Embassy has checked that the men are being treated properly, but there is no sign of an attempt to remove them from the country.
Fatah said the charges raised against the Americans, as well as four Afghans arrested along with them, carry jail terms of 16-20 years.
Abdul Baset Bakhtyari, a senior judge at Kabul's lower court, said it received the case Wednesday and it would be several days before a trial begins.
© 2004 The Associated Press