CAIRO, Egypt – A purported Al Qaeda in Afghanistan commander claimed in an audiotape released early Friday that the terror group was willing to swap prisoners with the U.S., Britain and other countries.
The audiotape's authenticity could not independently be confirmed, but it was posted on a Web site commonly used by Islamic militants. It opened with a short section that said it was produced by as-Sahab, the Al Qaeda media production wing.
It was accompanied by two still photos of a bearded man identified as Abu Laith al-Libi, a Libyan Al Qaeda operative believed to be behind a suicide bombing that killed 23 people outside the main U.S. base in Afghanistan during a February visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.
Al Qaeda in Khorasan, or Afghanistan, "announces its readiness to receive any Muslim captives exchanged with any party by any party," al-Libi, whose name means 'the Libyan' in Arabic, said in the 10-minute tape.
The message concluded with a prayer for the rescue of imprisoned Al Qaeda operatives, including "the virtuous Abu Qutada," a Jordanian of Palestinian origin once described by a Spanish judge as Usama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe."
The British government says it has negotiated with Abu Qatada to try to secure the release of kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, who has been held since he was kidnapped March 12 in Gaza City by Palestinian gunmen. His alleged kidnappers have demanded Abu Qatada's release.
Al-Libi was featured in an Al Qaeda video in late April accusing Shiite Muslims of fighting alongside American forces in Iraq and claiming that Islamic militants would crush foreign troops in Afghanistan. He is believed to have trained bombers at terror camps, including one raided by U.S. forces in the eastern province of Khost in 2005.
Separately, a man claiming to be the new Al Qaeda leader in Afghanistan appeared in a videotape on Al-Jazeera television Thursday saying the number of Islamic extremists in Afghanistan was on the rise.
The individual, who identified himself as Mustafa Abu al-Yazeed and appeared wearing a white Afghan robe and white turban, said he was appointed by Al Qaeda, but his claim could not be verified.
Abu al-Yazeed said the number of Islamic militants in Afghanistan had increased after the Afghan people witnessed a rise in poverty and drugs under the current democratic administration.