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Man claiming to be Taliban elder surrenders, U.S. official says

U.S. Marines scan the perimeter of their compound at the Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan.
U.S. Marines scan the perimeter of their compound at the Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan.  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A man identifying himself as a member of the Taliban Shura, a council of elders, has turned himself in to U.S. forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan, a U.S. military official said Wednesday.

During questioning, the man said that he has provided money to various causes, according to Cmdr. Frank Merriman, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command. Other military sources have said they believe he is a leading financier of the al Qaeda terrorist network, which is loyal to the recently ousted Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

U.S. authorities are questioning the man at the Kandahar International Airport. He is not considered a detainee and is not being held with other detainees on the base, Merriman said. Using careful wording, a U.S. official said the man "is not free to go, either."

The man showed up Tuesday at the front gate of the U.S. base at the Kandahar airport. There is no other information on his identity.

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News of the surrender came as American troops captured seven more detainees Tuesday, U.S. military officials said. The officials said they had no reason to believe the prisoners were of senior rank.

It was not clear whether the new prisoners were fighters from al Qaeda or the Taliban, but Pentagon sources said they were captured in a helicopter raid involving four dozen Green Berets in eastern Afghanistan, where defense officials said perhaps hundreds of al Qaeda members remain at large.

Officials said the U.S. military is tracking movements of suspects with possible weapons and supplies throughout the region. The areas around Khowst and Gardez are said to be active with al Qaeda.

Marines also found caches of weapons hidden in caves and beneath houses Tuesday in an area 1,000 yards from the Kandahar airport after detecting at least seven intruders inside the airport's security perimeter.

After spotting the intruders, Marines searched an area said to be the same place where bursts of machine-gun fire originated last week when a plane transporting detainees to Cuba was taking off.

A Marine spokesman said the search of tunnels, cave openings and crawl spaces under houses uncovered no people. Marines set charges and blew up the caches.

Among the weapons found were mortars, mortar fuses, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenades. A Marine spokesman said the weapons "were not there the other day."

An 82mm mortar tube was found Wednesday at the end of the airport runway with additional evidence of weapons around the airfield. The spokesman said the security perimeter around the airport was expanded along with the number of patrols.

Meanwhile, another 30 detainees arrived Wednesday at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where 50 others are being held. A total of 350 detainees remain in the Kandahar facility.

Military sources indicated a transfer of the surrendering Taliban elder to the Bagram air base north of Kabul was possible, depending on what information he provided. Bagram has been an increasingly busy point of interrogation for the most high-profile detainees.

CNN Correspondents Bill Hemmer and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.




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