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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 20:40 GMT
Pakistani Cuba prisoner demands compensation
Mohammad Sagheer meets people from his home town of Phattan
Mr Sagheer was held at Guantanamo Bay for nearly a year

The first Pakistani to return home from an American prison in Cuba has demanded compensation from the United States for keeping him in jail for almost a year.

Mohammad Sagheer, who was held on suspicion of having links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, said he wanted compensating "for the losses I suffered during a year of captivity and mental anguish," adding, "I'm a poor man."

Mohammad Sagheer
Mr Sagheer says he missed his children
In an interview with The Statesman magazine on his arrival in his home of Phattan Town, in mountainous Kohistan, Mr Sagheer denied being connected to any militant Islamic organisation.

"I'm a Tablighi and have nothing to do with Tehrik Nifaze Shariat Mohammadi or anything like it," he said.

Fifty-one year-old Mr Sagheer, who used to run a saw mill, seemed relieved to be back at home among his children.

Large family

It was the first time Mr Sagheer had seen his 18th child, a son, who was born three months after his departure on a preaching assignment in Afghanistan last year.


We were given so little water that one could hardly kill his thirst in days

Mohammad Sagheer

He said in captivity he missed his children the most.

Mr Sagheer's eldest son Nooruddin said his family did not know if or when their father would come home.

"We were just hoping that, God willing, he would certainly come back," said Nooruddin.

"It was a very difficult time to pass. I was not used to facing such a situation,.

"At times, I was looking at the sky to pray for my father's early return," he said.

A large number of well-wishers, relatives and local people turned up at Mr Sagheer's house to greet him on his safe return.

A father of 10 sons and eight daughters, Mr Sagheer believed he would now struggle to feed his large family in this underdeveloped village.

The poor Tablighi (member of a preaching group) was brought to Islamabad on a US aircraft on 27 October but it took him nine days to finally see his family after being questioned by Pakistani security agencies.

Preaching mission

Mr Sagheer says he was arrested by Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum's forces soon after the Taleban's ouster in Afghanistan's northern Kunduz province.

Prisoners at Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray
Mr Sagheer said prisoners were allowed to exercise twice a week

He said he had gone to Afghanistan on a preaching mission a few weeks before the 11 September attacks on the US.

"I'm not a jihadi," he said. "We went to spread Islam, not to fight on behalf of someone."

Mr Sagheer was rounded up along with others in Kunduz and went through a difficult experience.

He said: "We were put in a container. The small container was packed with 250 arrested people. During the move from Kunduz to Sheberghan prison, some 50 people died of suffocation. In some other containers, all the arrested people died."

Mr Sagheer is emerging as the first eyewitness to grave human rights violations by the Northern Alliance forces.

He said the Dostum forces provided six loaves of bread for 70 prisoners a day.

Thirsty

The same was the case with drinking water.

He said: "We were given so little water that one could hardly kill his thirst in days. From Sheberghan we were airlifted in helicopters to Kandahar where we spent another difficult 18 days.

Former Afghan detainee Jan Mohammed
Some Afghans have also been released from Cuba

"In Kandahar, the Americans did not allow us to sleep and offer prayers. We were blindfolded and our hands were tied down behind our backs."

Before being transported to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, the Americans shaved off the detainees' hair and beards.

The flight to Cuba took 22 hours and it was terrible.

In Cuba, Mr Sagheer said prisoners were locked up in a two-metre (six and a half feet) by two-metre room.

"Twice a week, we were allowed to walk in an open space," he said.

However, when the prisoners went on hunger strike, the Americans gave in to their demand that they be allowed to pray.

"No ill-feelings"

He also said: "The Americans interrogated me no less than 20 times and each time they had specific questions. They interrogated by both day and night."

However, Mr Sagheer said: "I have no ill-feeling toward the Americans. I believe my ordeal might have been God's will."

Mr Sagheer avoided a question about his detention in Islamabad and interrogation by Pakistani intelligence agencies.

But villagers told The Statesman that an intelligence agent visited Mr Sagheer and asked him to keep quiet.

A villager in Phattan, Haji Mir Alam, said: "We are not happy with the US, because the United States is working against our religion. It is bent on destroying Islam, which we will not allow to happen."


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29 Oct 02 | South Asia
29 Oct 02 | South Asia
28 Oct 02 | South Asia
23 Oct 02 | Americas
02 Sep 02 | South Asia
30 Apr 02 | Americas
25 Jun 02 | Americas
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