Video: Mistakenly released militant

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updated 10/21/2004 7:36:07 PM ET 2004-10-21T23:36:07

In the tribal area of Waziristan, Pakistani helicopter gunships and commandos hunt one of the country's most wanted militants — Abdullah Mehsud — a feared Taliban commander who is allegedly tied to al-Qaida. Mehsud's men recently took Pakistani soldiers and two Chinese engineers hostage.

A video given to NBC News by a contact in the region shows Mehsud at a hideout last week, playing to the camera. He urges fellow militants by radio to prepare for a suicide mission.

"Once you tie the bombs tightly to your bodies, then you should be ready for suicide. Once I give you the order, go and act," says Mehsud in the video.

Later, in a confrontation with Pakistani troops, one hostage and five of Mehsud’s men were killed.

The Mehsud story is more than a bit embarrassing for the United States. Until last March, Mehsud was in prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — having been captured fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan. However, a Pentagon review board decided to release him, ruling Mehsud was not a security threat.

"It is obvious now you can say that the Americans made a mistake," says Maj. Gen. Niaz Khattak, a Pakistani general now leading the manhunt.

Hunt for al-QaidaIn fact, some villagers now consider Mehsud a hero because he seems to have outwitted the Americans and tricked them into releasing him.

Experts say it's possible Mehsud was always a hardcore militant and deceived his captors.

"The other possibility is that the two years in captivity was itself a radicalizing experience," says terrorism expert Brian Jenkins.

A defiant Mehsud now claims he's avenging cruelty against Muslims. He vows to fight to the death against Americans and Pakistanis under American influence.

"If Abdullah dies or other people die, others will take our place," says Mehsud. "This is a cancer not in Waziristan or Pakistan only, but also in the rest of the Muslim world."

The Pentagon says 156 Guantanamo detainees have been released after signing pledges to renounce violence. Mehsud is one of ten who returned to terrorism. Aspokesman admits the process for deciding which detainees to release is "imperfect."

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