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Bin Laden Could be Hiding in Pakistan, Officials Say - 2003-03-06

Pakistani security officials say they believe the head of the al-Qaida terror network, Osama bin Laden, is hiding somewhere in Pakistan, or in the rugged border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The recent arrest of a top bin Laden aide has yeilded new information about the terror chief's whereabouts.

Pakistani security officials say material seized during the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed indicates the al-Qaida chief is alive and hiding somewhere in the region. They say the information came from handwritten letters from Osama bin Laden, a computer and other equipment seized in the raid to capture Mr. Mohammed.

The terror suspect also reportedly told his captors that he was in contact with the al-Qaida leader until recently.

Pakistan government ministers are insisting that bin Laden is not in Pakistan. But they acknowledge that the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gives them enough information to arrest more al-Qaida operatives hiding in the country.

U.S. officials have yet to comment on the Pakistani statement.

It is still not known for certain whether al-Qaida chief bin Laden survived the U.S.-led strikes against his hideouts in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Pakistani authorities captured Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a house near the Pakistani capital along with a Saudi national, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, and a Pakistani man, Abdul Qadoos Ahmed.

Mr. Mohammed and his Saudi colleague were interrogated for several hours in Pakistan before being turned over to U.S. authorities. The Pakistani detained with them is still being detained in Pakistan.

U.S. leaders are hailing the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as an important victory against terrorism. They believe the al-Qaida suspect is the operational planner of the September 11 terrorist attacks on U.S. cities.

Mr. Mohammed is also suspected of involvement in several other deadly strikes against U.S. facilities outside the country. The United States had offered up to $25 million for information leading to his arrest.