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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 13:55 GMT
'Bribes' free top Taleban leader
By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

British troops in Afghanistan
The mullah is now reportedly back in Helmand fighting British troops
A Taleban commander in Afghanistan responsible for leading attacks on British troops says he has been freed from prison after paying a bribe.

Mullah Sorkh Naqaibullah told the BBC he paid $15,000 (7,500) to the Afghan authorities to win his freedom.

It was the third time that the leader, known as the "Red Mullah", had been captured and released, he said.

Mullah Naqaibullah operates in Helmand province, where there is a large concentration of British troops.

'Released'

He told the BBC he had been released from custody for the third time in three years after paying a bribe to an Afghan National Directorate of Security official.

Members of the Taleban in Musa Qala
Mullah Naqaibullah is reputedly a top Taleban leader

On the last occasion he said that he had been held for more than five months, but was now back in the Gereshk and surrounding districts of Helmand province leading a group of insurgents.

"I was arrested on 24 July and then they sent me into Kabul National Directorate of Security (NDS) custody," he said.

"The law is they can keep suspects in the NDS for two months and after that they have to send them to court.

"But I was in NDS custody for five months. On Friday (4 January) a visitor came to see me, and met the NDS officer on the gate.

"He paid $15,000 to the officer, who then released me."

Investigation

Mullah Naqaibullah also explained how in 2004 he had bribed his way out of Kabul's notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, 16 months after being caught in Helmand.

He said he did the same thing the following year - 2005 - by bribing police to let him go after he had been caught again.

An NDS spokesman refused to comment on his allegations, saying he could not confirm whether the reports were right or wrong.

But another NDS source confirmed that Mullah Naqaibullah had been released, and that an investigation had begun to track down those responsible.

A Taleban spokesman said Mullah Naqaibullah had returned to Helmand.

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