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Al Qaeda leader Abu Hafs al-Mauritani freed in Mauritania

(CBS/AP) NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania - Abu Hafs al-Mauritani, who was a senior adviser to al Qaeda, was released from a prison in Mauritania over the weekend, his family confirmed.

Sidi Ould Walid said his brother was released after renouncing his ties to the terror network and condemning the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Hafs refused to be interviewed or to be filmed as he left the prison on Saturday.

On militant forums on Monday, jihadists exchanged congratulations over the release. Hafs, whose full given name is Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, was an adviser to Osama Bin Laden who helped form the modern al Qaeda by merging bin Laden's operation with Ayman al-Zawahri's Islamic Jihad.

Hafs spent years in custody in Iran before being extradited to Mauritania in April. Walid says his brother was interrogated multiple times and his release indicates he is no longer seen as a threat.

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Hafs has been largely out of the game for a decade, but the U.S. is concerned that he could re-emerge as an ideological figure if he fails to follow through on whatever conditions of release he has made with Mauritanian authorities, a U.S. official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe sensitive intelligence matters.

According to, Hafs had been under a loose house arrest in Iran since 2003, and had been shipped to Mauritania in April of this year.

While Hafs later praised the 9/11 attacks, three suspect terrorist detainees claimed Hafs was one of the few in al Qaeda who initially opposed them, and even sent a letter to bin Laden against them, citing the Quran.

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