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Monday, 24 June, 2002, 10:34 GMT 11:34 UK
Marines question 'al-Qaeda' suspects
Royal Marines
The Marines found weapons and ammunition
The man commanding British troops in Afghanistan says it is too early to say whether several men captured, along with a huge cache of weapons, are members of al-Qaeda.

The weapons, and what are thought to be pictures of the Twin Towers, were discovered after a "Mexican stand-off" between 20 Royal Marines and nine armed men inside a compound.

Brigadier Roger Lane, commander of the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, told the BBC it was too early to tell whether the men were al-Qaeda members.

A marines spokesman said the raid, in the south-east of the country, was made following intelligence reports and the arms store was "probably the biggest find yet".

Among the weapons were plastic explosives and detonators, three anti-aircraft guns, 120 grenades, 140 rocket rounds, 600 mortar bombs and 75,000 rounds of ammunition.

Radio equipment

Brigadier Lane, whose mission in Afghanistan has been attacked as a wild goose chase, said his troops had done a good job.

Marine shows a booby trap
A booby trap was found in the compound
He told Radio Four's Today programme: "It is always very difficult out here to establish exactly who owns this.

"It could be the local warlord or one of the very many militias here."

But Brigadier Lane added: "We have to ask ourselves why were there booby-trap materials? Why were there pictures of, we believe, the Twin Towers?"

He said the men were hastily trying to remove radio equipment when the marines stormed the compound, by climbing over its walls.

'Quite tense'

Describing the mission Sergeant Buck Ryan, patrol commander, said: "In the last room, there was a curtain.

"When I pulled it back, it was like, 'Oh my God'. It was stacked up to the roof with weapons and ammunition."

Arms Haul
Mortars
Anti-tank guns
Bazookas
Ammunition
Rocket launchers
Plastic explosives

The troops were patrolling the village of Surwipan on Saturday when they made the discovery.

Lieutenant Colonel Ben Curry, spokesman for the marines, said: "There was a bit of a 'Mexican stand-off' between our troops and the armed men in the compound. It was quite tense.

"The Afghans quite wisely made a decision to put their weapons down - they are now being questioned."

He added: "Everyone has an AK47 but this was bomb-making equipment. Without a shadow of a doubt it is ex al-Qaeda or Taleban weapons."

Warlords

Some of the weapons will be blown up and others are to be handed over to the Afghans' own national army, which is now being formed.

Lt Col Curry said the arms were in good condition and unlikely to belong to a local warlord.

The troops met some hostility from villagers and a US AC-130 gunship was called as back-up before another 80 marines arrived.

Local people said about five lorry loads of weapons were recently removed from the compound by men.

'Huge buzz'

British marines and US special forces have found few fighters while searching the country in recent weeks, prompting some criticism of the mission.

Marine Liam Armstrong said: "It's the best thing we've had so far. It's given us all a huge buzz. "

The vast majority of the 3,000 UK troops deployed in Afghanistan will be home by the end of August.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Janet Barrie
"This is the heart of the military operation"
Find out more about the Royal Marines in Afghanistan


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