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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
Afghans free US 'bounty hunter'
Jonathan Keith Idema
Idema claimed he had the backing of the Pentagon
A former US soldier jailed for running a private prison in Kabul and torturing Afghans has been freed, officials say.

Jack Idema was pardoned by President Karzai in March as part of an amnesty.

A senior prisons official said Idema left jail in early June and flew out of the country. He served less than three years of his original 10-year sentence.

Idema was jailed with two other US men, also since freed. He said his work was approved by the US and Afghan governments, which denied the claim.

The Pentagon said he was a bounty hunter.

'Unknown destination'

Jonathan "Jack" Idema was one of many former special forces soldiers working privately in Afghanistan - some to provide security, others acting as bounty hunters attracted by the millions of dollars in rewards offered for Osama Bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda suspects.

A senior prisons official in the Afghan justice ministry said the former soldier had been released at the start of June.

"We escorted him right to the airport and onto a plane", the official, Abdul Salam Asmat, told the AFP news agency.

Idema's Afghan lawyer, Rahim Ahmadzai, told the Associated Press news agency that Idema had been freed on 2 June. He said he did not know where he went.

A US embassy official quoted by the agency said that, according to court documents filed in Washington this week, Idema had left for an "unknown destination".

Idema had his sentence cut by half by a court in Afghanistan in March 2005, although it was not clear why.

His two US accomplices - Brent Bennett and Edward Caraballo - had their sentences cut from 10 years to three and eight years to two respectively.

They were released from Kabul's Pul-e Charkhi prison last year.

Nato 'duped'

The three men were arrested in July 2004 after Afghan forces raided a house in a Kabul neighbourhood and discovered eight Afghan men being held captive.

Some of the men later testified to having been tortured in the house.

Idema said his group was tracking down terror suspects with the co-operation of Afghan and US authorities.

The US said it had received one prisoner from Idema but the Pentagon denied any ties to him.

Nato forces also said they had been duped into helping the group on three occasions.

Correspondents say their trial was often chaotic and marred by poor translation.

Four Afghans working with the Americans were also found guilty and sentenced to between one and five years in jail.

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