Afghan Qaeda leader "ready for prisoner swap"

DUBAI Fri May 25, 2007 1:56pm BST

DUBAI (Reuters) - A purported leader of al Qaeda in Afghanistan said in a statement posted on the Internet on Friday that his organisation was willing to exchange prisoners with Britain and other Western countries.

"The al Qaeda organisation in Khorasan (Afghanistan), announces that it is ready to receive any Muslim prisoner that would be exchanged with any party, anywhere, even if it was prisons in crusaders' countries," said Abu Laith al-Libi.

"On top of these prisoners is the honourable Sheikh and cleric Abu Qatada al-Filistini who is jailed in Britain," said the statement posted on an Islamist Web site used mainly by al Qaeda.

It was unclear if the group was holding any Western prisoners.

Abu Qatada is a radical Islamic cleric suspected of close links to al Qaeda, and has been described by the British government as a "significant international terrorist".

A little-known Islamist group in the Gaza Strip which is holding BBC journalist Alan Johnston said earlier this month that it would free him if Britain released Abu Qatada.

Libi mentioned other names of people he said were prisoners without saying in which countries.

"O God help Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, Sheikh Abu Qatada, Sheikh Abu Mohammad al-Maqdsisi, Sheikh Suleiman al-Elwan, Sheikh Abu Munther al-Sa'adi, and help all Muslim prisoners."

On Thursday, al Jazeera television said that al Qaeda has appointed a new leader in Afghanistan, Mustafa abu al-Yazid, and broadcast excerpts from his speech in which he said support for the group was growing.

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