U.S. begins questioning Taliban foreign minister

Americans hope capture of Taliban foreign minister will lead them to more senior leaders

Afghan authorities say that the former Taliban foreign minister, now being held by U.S. authorities, should probably be charged with crimes against humanity.

They want to interrogate Mullah Abdul Wakil Muttawakil to find out if he had ties to terrorist training camps.

Afghanistan's new interim government believes he should face trial for his role in a variety of crimes committed by the ousted regime, from murder to the destruction of priceless artifacts.

American officials, meanwhile, are hoping Muttawakil's capture will boost their efforts to track down more senior leaders of the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

It's believed Muttawakil turned himself in to the U.S. on Friday, and was taken to the American military compound at Kandahar airport. American officials haven't commented on his case, but he will likely be transferred to the American prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The U.S. Central Command in Florida has confirmed a former Taliban foreign minister was taken into U.S. custody, but it would not specifically name Muttawakil.

In Kandahar on Saturday, U.S. Army spokesman Major A.C. Roper would not say anything about what could be the Americans' highest-ranking Taliban prisoner.

"I have no information about the former foreign minister," said Roper. "We do not disclose the number of specific detainees at our various short-term holding facilities."

But Afghan authorities said Muttawakil is in custody, and they want the right to interrogate him.

The son of a respected Pashtun cleric and Islamic scholar, Muttawakil was better educated and more wordly than others in the Taliban inner circle.

He has been seen as a relative moderate within the Taliban. Privately, he expressed concerns about the increasing influence of Osama bin Laden and other Arab militants. In public, he stuck to the movement's hardline stance.

In October, he reportedly travelled in secret to Pakistan to urge a slowdown in the U.S. bombing to allow the Taliban a chance to reconsider their decision to harbour Osama bin Laden. He also met with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

A spokesman for the current interim government said they'd been expecting some former Taliban figures to either turn themselves in or be brought to justice. The extreme winter conditions in many parts of Afghanistan make life difficult for fugitives hiding in the mountains.