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Bin Laden is isolated, say Pakistan officials

September 26, 2005 11:18 IST

Osama bin Laden is probably hiding out with a small core of mainly Arab supporters and the al-Qaeda leader now only sends messages by courier because his communication network has been destroyed, senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials say.

There have been no fresh clues to bin Laden's whereabouts, but he generally is believed to be in the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Bin Laden in Pak's Waziristan region: Report

"In our opinion, the reports on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden are more speculative stories rather than based on accurate intelligence," said Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan, chief spokesman for Pakistan's army.

Pakistan has deployed some 80,000 troops to its rugged border regions running along Afghanistan, fighting intense battles with al-Qaida-linked militants.

A CBS '0 Minutes' programme on Sunday said Pakistani officials believed that bin Laden may be hiding in Afghanistan, where he is 'protected' by a very small number of people to keep a low profile.

A Pakistani intelligence official in the northwestern city of Peshawar, near the Afghan border, said bin Laden probably is accompanied by "dozens" of mainly Arab supporters. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the secretive nature of his job.

'Osama is definitely in the land of the Pashtuns'

Security officials in Pakistan, Washington's front-line Muslim ally in the war on terrorism, also believe bin Laden's communication network had been destroyed.

"For a very long time there are no intercepts about Osama bin Laden giving instructions to his regional commanders, either through radio, telephone, satellite phone or the Internet," a senior security official said on condition of anonymity. If he is unable to give orders physically or otherwise, it clearly indicates that his communication has been severed," they said.

In the past, bin Laden would be surrounded by upto 500 people, the Peshawar-based intelligence official said, adding that his communication network had been reduced to human couriers, where a message "changes several hands" between its point of origin and final destination.

US will 'love' Pak to capture Osama

"This is a very slow and exposed way of communicating," the official said.

Security forces seized a letter from bin Laden during a raid in Rawalpindi in 2003 in which al-Qaeda's then-No 3 leader Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a suspected planner of the September 11 attacks, was captured. Mohammed is believed to have received the letter via the courier network, the official said.

Pakistani officials say more than 700 al-Qaeda suspects, including senior figures like Mohammed, had been arrested so far. They added that information gleaned from al-Qaeda has led to the arrests of militants outside Pakistan and helped prevent terrorist attacks abroad.

"The arrest of Naeem Noor Khan led to the arrest of a big gang ... ahead of the British elections," Sultan said, claiming that the people arrested in Britain planned to attack Heathrow Airport. Last year Intelligence agents arrested Muhammad Naeems Noor Khan, 25, an alleged Pakistani computer expert for al-Qaeda.

A  reported tip-off from Khan led to the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian on the FBI's most-wanted list for his alleged role in the 1998 bombings of United States embassies in East Africa that killed more than 200 people.

There were media reports that Mohammed Sidique Khan, one of the suspected bombers in the deadly July 7 explosions in London, may have had ties with members of an alleged terrorist cell that matched information from Noor Khan's computer.

Sadaqat Jan
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