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Report: Intensified Search for Osama bin Laden Under Way in Pakistan - 2003-03-07


An intense new search for terror mastermind Osama bin Laden is reportedly underway in Pakistan, mainly in the rugged mountainous region along the border with Afghanistan.

Pakistani officials in the southwestern region of Balochistan are quoted as saying both Pakistani and U.S. forces are taking part in the renewed search for Osama bin Laden. The search is also taking place farther North, in Chitral.

The search is said to be based on information obtained during last week's arrest of a leading al-Qaida suspect, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, born in Kuwait, is allegedly the operational commander of the terrorist network. Officials said he told interrogators that he had met Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed location in Pakistan not long before his capture. Mr. Mohammed was questioned by Pakistani officials before being turned over to the United States. Where he is being held has not been revealed.

A large volume of documents and equipment seized from Mr. Mohammed is said to have been sent to Washington, where it is being examined for clues to the al-Qaida leader's whereabouts.

Government officials in Islamabad are refusing to comment on the reported search. Prior to Mr. Mohammed's arrest, officials had consistently said that Osama bin Laden was not in Pakistan.

But Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat has acknowledged that the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has provided new information about the whereabouts of al-Qaida operatives hiding in Pakistan. Several high-ranking al-Qaida officials, in addition to Mr. Mohammed, have been captured in the country since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

American officials still do not know for certain whether Osama bin Laden survived the U.S. led bombing of his hideouts in Afghanistan that started more than a year ago.

Last week's arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan is being hailed as an important victory against terrorism. President Bush has applauded the arrest, saying Mr. Mohammed conceived and planned the September 11 attacks. He said Mr. Mohammed's capture will further disrupt al-Qaida's plans for future acts of terrorism.

Meanwhile, Pakistani newspapers are reporting Friday that the director of Central Intelligence Agency, George Tenet, briefly visited Pakistan this week and met with President Pervez Musharraf. He is said to have congratulated and thanked the Pakistani leader on the arrest of Mr. Mohammed, who was captured along with another key member of al-Qaida, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawaswi.

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