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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK
Kabul 'bounty hunter' accuses US
Caraballo, Idema and Bennett in the courtroom
(Left to right) Caraballo, Idema and Bennett in the courtroom
A US citizen arrested in Kabul over an alleged freelance counter-terrorism operation says he was working with the knowledge of the US defence secretary.

Jonathan K Idema said the US government had abandoned him. Washington says he was a mercenary.

Mr Idema was speaking shortly before he went on trial with two other Americans, Edward Caraballo and Brent Bennett.

The trial, on charges of torture, kidnapping and running a private jail, was adjourned on Wednesday for 15 days.

'Assassination attempts'

Mr Idema told journalists before the trial he had evidence to prove he was working for the Pentagon.

He claims to have helped prevent several attempted terrorist attacks and said he had regular e-mail, phone and fax contact with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's office and other senior Pentagon officials.

The American forces directly condoned and supported what we did
Jonathan K Idema

Then during his court appearance on Wednesday he told reporters crowding around the dock the name of a Pentagon official he alleged had asked his group to work "under contract".

The group turned him down, Mr Idema said.

He said his group had prevented assassination attempts on Education Minister Yunis Qanooni and Defence Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim.

Mr Idema said the FBI had interrogated several militants his group had captured over an alleged plot to blow up the Bagram air base with fuel trucks.

The US State Department denies any links with the group, saying the men were mercenaries operating outside Washington's command.

Four Afghans arrested with the Americans were also standing trial on Wednesday.

After the charges were read out, a lawyer for one of the Americans - Mr Caraballo - asked for the trial to be delayed by at least two weeks so the defence could be better prepared.

Presiding Judge Abdul Baset Bakhtyari allowed the request.

'Upside down'

None of the Americans spoke officially in court on Wednesday but three witnesses did appear.

Kabul house
The men are accused of running a prison at this Kabul house
They were from among the eight Afghans who were found at the alleged private jail the Americans were said to be running.

One, Sher Jan, said: "They pulled me out of my house one morning, hooded me and broke a rib with a gun... They poured hot water on me too."

A second, Ghulam Sakhi, said he was tied upside down for a period during 18 days in the private prison.

Mr Idema, in dark glasses, khaki trousers and a shirt bearing an American flag logo, told reporters the abuse claims were invented.

He also complained about the translation facilities. "It is impossible for us to know what's happening," he said.

The BBC's Andrew North, at the trial in Kabul, says there were chaotic scenes as the three US citizens were taken away from the court in handcuffs after the adjournment.

A US embassy official attended the trial but made no comment. The defendants could face 15 to 20 years in jail if convicted.

Peacekeepers 'duped'

Correspondents say the US bounty for al-Qaeda fugitives has drawn many foreign vigilantes to Afghanistan.

The US government has promised $25m for anyone who facilitates the arrest of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

International peacekeepers operating in Kabul have admitted providing bomb-disposal services to the three arrested Americans.

The peacekeepers said they were fooled by the US-style uniforms and professional approach of the men.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew North
"The US government call the men mercenaries outside their control"



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