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4 suspected terrorists escape prison in Afghanistan

Breakout is first from US compound

BAGRAM, Afghanistan -- Four suspected Arab terrorists broke out of a US military detention facility in Afghanistan yesterday, fleeing through barbed wire stockades in the first escape from the compound since the American military took over the former Soviet airbase.

Also yesterday, rescuers reported finding the body of a US Navy SEAL, the last to be accounted for from a four-man special forces unit that disappeared after a June 28 ambush in the rugged mountains in the east of the country.

US and Afghan forces launched a manhunt for the suspects, identified as Arabs from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Libya. US soldiers set up roadblocks, and helicopters clattered low over villages near the heavily guarded base north of the capital, Kabul.

Bagram is in a wide plain at the foot of the Hindu Kush mountains, and much of the area around the base remains mined from Afghanistan's civil war and Soviet occupation. The base is surrounded by barbed wire fences and is intensely guarded by US troops. All visitors are checked several times by US military guards.

The escapes were another setback for the US military as it struggles with insurgent fighting that has left more than 700 people dead in three months and has threatened to sabotage three years of progress toward peace. During the weekend, 22 Afghan soldiers were killed, including 10 who were beheaded.

The discovery of the body of the Navy SEAL in Kunar province Sunday ended a desperate search for the final unaccounted member of the special forces team. One of the four was rescued July 3, and two were found dead the next day.

US military spokesman Colonel James Yonts said the commando had died in fighting soon after the ambush, and he denied claims by a purported Taliban spokesman that the SEAL was captured alive and beheaded.

''There have been claims of being beheaded," he said. ''There was no indication supporting the claims. . . . This individual was never in custody, he was never defamed or disgraced."

Yonts said the commando's body was found near the site where a US helicopter that was bringing reinforcements crashed in Korangal Valley in a rugged ''area that we had looked over before. But where his body was located was hard to find."

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