Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Yahoo! News - Pakistan lost Bin Laden trail last year: Musharraf

Yahoo! News - Pakistan lost Bin Laden trail last year: Musharraf:

ISLAMABAD (AFP) - Pakistani forces hunting Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) lost track of the Al-Qaeda leader after coming close to discovering his whereabouts several months ago, President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview.

Musharraf told the BBC late Monday that intelligence agencies had indications eight to 10 months ago about the whereabouts of Bin Laden but then the trail went cold.

'There have been occasions where, through interrogation of those who have been captured, the Al-Qaeda members who were apprehended there, and through technical means, there was a time when the dragnet has closed,' Musharraf said.

'We thought we knew roughly the area where he possibly could be. That was, I think ... not very long (ago), maybe eight to 10 months back,' said Musharraf, who is a close ally in the US-led war against terrorism."

In May and July 2004 Pakistan also rounded up scores of Al-Qaeda operatives including some key figures, who had taken shelter in other parts of the country after fleeing tribal sanctuaries.

Notable among these were Ahmad Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian indicted in the 1998 twin bombings of US embassies in Africa, and a Pakistani computer expert Naeem Noor Khan, thought to have been planning a series of attacks in Britain and the United States.

Security officials have told AFP that Ghailani, who sneaked into the Pakistani tribal regions from Afghanistan soon after the fall of Afghanistan's hardline Taliban regime in late 2001, had received messages from Bin Laden as late as 2003.

Ghailani was handed over to the United States and flown out of Pakistan last December.

Security officials believe Bin Laden slipped across the mountainous border into Pakistan after fleeing a massive US assault in eastern Afghanistan's Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.

There has been speculation in security circles here that he could be somewhere in the mountainous border area near the Chitral valley in northern Pakistan.

Pakistan also conducted a series of operations in tribal regions near Afghanistan's Kandahar province further to the south back in April 2003, a month after the arrest of the 9/11 chief co-planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammad.

Tens of thousands of troops have remained deployed in the rugged northwestern lawless regions since 2002 to purge hundreds of suspected foreign Al-Qaeda fighters believed to have been hiding there with local support.

Lately the battleground has shifted to North Waziristan after security forces claimed they had wiped out militants' hideouts and training camps in neighbouring South Waziristan.

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