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Cayman under probe US investigating three Afghans accused of links to terrorist attacks Observer Reporter Monday, September 17, 2001
THE Cayman Islands government confirmed yesterday that officials from the US embassy in Kingston where in that country last week investigating the basis on which a local boat captain uncannily warned of a terrorist attack on America "via an airline or airlines" and accused three Afghans in the island of being part of the plot.
The Cayman government did not take the claim seriously, considering the letter by Byron Barnett -- sent to Radio Cayman on August 29 and passed to the authorities five days before the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon -- as "purely speculative".
But in a statement issued yesterday the administration said it had passed to the Americans all documents relating to the Afghans, who have been in the Cayman Islands since last August seeking political asylum.
The Aghans -- Nez Nazar Nezary, Mohammad Raza Hussani and Ali Shah Yusufi -- were taken into custody last Tuesday shortly after terrorists, who the Americans say were under the tutelage of Afghan-based Osama bin Laden, plunged hijacked planes into major symbols of US economic and military might.
Said the statement: "Following the horrific terrorist attacks in the US, chief secretary, James Ryan, transmitted the information to police commissioner David Thursfield on 12th September. The RCIP (Royal Cayman Island Police) was then in contact with the US consul on the island and the US embassy in Kingston, Jamaica.
"Representatives from the US embassy arrived in Grand Cayman on the evening of the 12th September and departed on the afternoon of 15th September. While in the Cayman Islands, the US authorities received complete co-operation.
"They were provided with all documents and relevant information regarding the case of the Afghan nationals with a view to briefing the relevant US investigating authorities."
The new US ambassador to Jamaica, Sue McCourt Cobb, was unavailable for comment yesterday, but political sources here suggested that the team that went to the Cayman Islands included "intelligence officials".
However, a Cayman Government Information Service (GIS) spokesperson, Joan Scott Campbell, said that the island's administration was treating the matter seriously. "The fact that they have moved the men from the guest house where they had been staying to the prison is an indication of how seriously they are treating it," Scott Campbell said.
Barnett, who skippers pleasure boats, had apparently intended his letter, which he signed "A very concerned Caymanian", for Joel Francis, the host of a mid-day talk show on Radio Cayman. He seemingly mistakenly addressed it to Joel Walton, who Observer sources say is the name of an official in the Cayman government.
In the letter he said that he was convinced that the Afghans were agents of bin Laden.
"The three agents here are organising a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines," he wrote.
Barnett, who did not sign the letter, urged that the information be passed on "immediately to the authorities" and warned against complacency "in this serious situation".
He added as a post script: "If we foil these agents' plan we may never for sure know why they are here, but if we allow this attack to be carried out this would be one of the greatest and most far-reaching catastrophes for these islands."
Barnett's letter was hand-delivered to the station's director of broadcasting, Loxley Banks, who did not pass it on to the acting chief secretary, Donavan Ebanks, until a week later, on September 6 -- five days before the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
In yesterday's statement, the government said the letter was not read on the air because it was considered speculative and Radio Cayman "had heard similar allegations about the Afghans since their arrival".
When the letter was handed over, Ebanks also considered the letter speculative, but suggested that the writer was welcome to contact him directly to discuss the matter.
Said the government statement: "The person who wrote the anonymous letter did not contact the acting chief secretary or any other Cayman Islands government or law enforcement official about the letter until 12th September, the day after the attack in the US. When formally interviewed that day by local authorities, the letter writer told them that the letter was 'pure speculation' on his part."
However, there have been other suggestions in the Cayman Islands that Barnett's letter was more than speculation and that he may have been prompted by an overheard conversation.
The origins of the three Afghans have baffled Cayman, British and Canadian authorities since they surfaced on August 22 last year, claiming that they had been dropped of there by a ship from Turkey. They indicated that they wanted to seek asylum in Canada.
The Cayman Islands, which is a British colony, informed the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London about their presence and raised doubt about their story of how they arrived in the islands.
"It appeared likely that the men had arrived here on 20th August on a flight from Cuba using Pakistani passports," the government said in its statement. "The government questioned the validity of the Pakistani passports (which were never located) and the ultimate goal of the men concerning their presence in the Cayman Islands."
Since then, the authorities have been attempting to establish the true identities of the men, through Interpol, Pakistan's embassy in Washington, the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, and the British High Commission in Islamabad, which sought the help of the Pakistani government.
At one stage, immigration officials from the Canadian High Commission in Kingston went to the Cayman Islands to talk with their Caymanian counterparts about the case. An Afghan specialist from British immigration last month interviewed the men, was satisfied that they were Afghanistan but was not satisfied about their accounts of how they arrived in the Cayman Islands.
For most of the time the men were detained in the colony's Northward Prison, but based on their complaints with support from the Cayman Red Cross they were in April of this year removed to a less secure area of the jail.
In June of this year the Cayman Island Grand Court ruled that they be released pending determination of the application for political asylum.
The court ruled that there was no evidence that the Afghans posed a danger to the public and that "fears of their possible links with terrorist organisations have long since been dispelled".
Before their re-arrest last week the men lived at a local guest house, but had to report regularly to immigration authorities.
Said the government in yesterday's statement: "The Cayman Islands government has been actively co-operating with US embassy personnel and will continue to do so. We welcome the presence of any and all international law enforcement authorities for as long as necessary to resolve this matter." http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/html/20010917T060000-0500_14245_OBS_CAYMAN_UNDER_PROBE.asp
-- P.piper (PeterPiper@netzero.net), September 17, 2001