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Detainees’ data credited with foiling more attacks

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The FBI director said Wednesday that interrogating members of Osama bin Laden's terror network detained at the U.S. military base in Kandahar has prevented new attacks against U.S. targets worldwide.

Robert Mueller made an unannounced visit to the base, the largest concentration of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. As many as 400 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners have been held at the base since the Taliban regime collapsed under attack by U.S.-led forces in November.

"Information we have picked up since the war has prevented additional attacks around the world," Mueller said. "Interrogations from al-Qaida members detained here in Afghanistan as well as documents . . . has prevented additional attacks against U.S. facilities around the world."

Mueller ate a lunch of Afghan chicken and rice with FBI agents who are here to interrogate detainees. They are the first agents deployed in a combat zone.

Mueller refused to give details on what attacks may have been prevented. Singapore authorities last month arrested suspects they said were plotting attacks against the U.S. Embassy and other targets, helped partly by handwritten notes and a videotape found in Afghanistan.

In addition, a prisoner from the conflict — Ibn Al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaida training camp commander — warned of an impending attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen this week, according to Yemeni officials.

The FBI director said that he was traveling to find out "what more needs to be done to assist FBI agents who have participated with Army and other forces here to learn all we could and can about terrorist activities."

Mueller said he could not say anything about the military's continuing hunt for bin Laden or his chief Afghan ally, deposed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

U.S. special forces and Afghan anti-Taliban fighters conducted house-to-house searches in four villages in southern Helmand province seeking Omar, the one-eyed cleric whose extreme Islamic regime allowed bin Laden to use the country as a base, Afghan sources said.

Neither Omar nor his aides were discovered, the sources said on condition of anonymity. U.S. officials refuse to confirm special forces operations.

Special forces had been reported in action Monday near the eastern city of Khost, seizing four people suspected of links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, a prominent Taliban figure. The Khost area is considered dangerous because of deep feuds between rival warlords, and there were conflicting reports of clashes Wednesday.

The Afghan Islamic Press, based in Pakistan, reported that troops loyal to Zakim Khan had captured most government, military and intelligence facilities from loyalists of a bitter rival, Bacha Khan Zadran. Zakim Khan told AIP that he wanted interim leader Hamid Karzai's government to send a delegation to mediate the standoff.

But Amanaullah Zadran, brother of Bacha Khan and the government's minister of border and tribal affairs, said by telephone that his brother's forces were in complete control and that there had been no fighting.

About 3,600 soldiers from the United States and other coalition countries are based at the Kandahar airport. It came under brief attack two weeks ago, and two freshly dug mortar pits were discovered Wednesday north of the airfield. There were no mortars or munitions.

"We'll keep them under observation," Army Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Nielsen said.

Several suspicious individuals were seen by troops on the perimeter during the day, Nielsen said, some of them weaving in and out of abandoned adobe huts.

Asked whether another attack was being prepared, Nielsen said: "I wouldn't put it past them. We'd be fools to think people are not outside looking in."

Meanwhile, a young American who fought with the Taliban, John Walker Lindh, was being flown to the United States. Lindh traveled about 450 miles from the USS Bataan in the northern Arabian Sea, where he had been held for two months, to Kandahar and was transferred to a C-17 military transport.

Lindh was expected to arrive in suburban Washington sometime Wednesday. He faces charges in U.S. federal court in northern Virginia for conspiring to kill Americans, providing support to terrorist organizations and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban. He could be sentenced to life imprisonment if convicted.

Reporters were kept away from the C-17 at Kandahar. The transfer took place under the red low-visibility light of the plane's back ramp, in a steady, cold rain, on the otherwise darkened runway. Lindh could not be seen.

Lindh, a 20-year-old Californian who converted to Islam at age 16, allegedly trained at an al-Qaida camp in Afghanistan and personally met bin Laden.

Lindh was captured in November in the siege of Kunduz and survived a bloody prison uprising by Taliban and al-Qaida members near Mazar-e-Sharif in which CIA operative Johnny "Mike" Spann was killed. There has been no indication he was directly involved in Spann's death.

In other developments:

— Five survivors of a Marine helicopter crash arrived Tuesday in Germany at a U.S. military hospital and were in stable condition, said Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein Air Base. The helicopter was on a resupply mission for U.S. forces when it crashed Sunday south of Kabul, killing two Marines.

— Afghan leader Hamid Karzai visited China and won pledges of more aid, but the amount was not specified. An agreement was signed covering $4.6 million in aid that China had already pledged, including $1 million that China offered at an international donors conference in Tokyo.

— The American Civil Liberties Union has sued two New Jersey counties, accusing them of violating state law by not releasing names and other information of detainees held in county jails since the Sept. 11 attacks. The group estimated that 400 to 700 people are being held as part of the government's terrorism probe.

— In Yemen, the government has closed down an Islamic institute where foreigners had been rounded up in recent weeks on residency violations, Education Minister Fadel Abu Ghanem said. It is located in a tribal region where Yemeni forces had been searching for al-Qaida suspects.