Last Updated Tue, 28 Jun 2005 12:58:50 EDT
A Muslim cleric once held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has told reporters in Moscow that fellow prisoners told him that guards desecrated the Qur'an by putting it in a toilet.
* INDEPTH: Guantanamo
A Guantamamo Bay cell block. (AP file photo)
Airat Vakhitov, who was released last year, said he did not himself see the Muslim holy book desecrated in Cuba but earlier saw such a thing while held by U.S. forces in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
"In Kandahar, they tore up copies of the Qur'an and even put it in a bucket of feces," he told the Associated Press.
In May, U.S. officials vehemently denied a Newsweek report that an interrogator had flushed the Qur'an down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay. The Bush administration blamed the report – which the magazine retracted – for deadly anti-U.S. riots in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon later said U.S. guards had mishandled the Qur'an in five case but did put it in a toilet.
Vakhitov, who described himself as a former imam from Tatarstan in southern Russia, added his voice to the controversy on Tuesday at a news conference organized by a Russian state news agency.
He told the news conference that guards in Cuba regularly threw the Qur'an in a toilet, but he later told AP he did not see it happen.
"A Palestinian named Mahir, who was in a neighbouring cell, had seen it and told me about that," he said. "Many other people in Guantanamo also told me about that."
Vakhitov told a complicated tale of how he ended up at Guantanamo Bay.
He said he was held both by Russian forces and by those of Russia's breakaway region of Chechnya on suspicion of spying. He later moved to Tajikistan, where he claimed to have been kidnapped by members of a radical Islamic group and then taken to Afghanistan, where he was held by the Taliban and then sold to U.S. forces, AP reported.
He was among seven men sent back to Russia from Guantanamo in 2004, held by Russian authorities for three months and released a year ago.
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