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Terrorism Experts Predict Long Hunt for Bin Laden

Terrorism experts have told a congressional hearing in Washington the search for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is likely to be a long one. The hearing came as it was revealed that a top al-Qaida operative, Abu Obaidah al-Masri, is believed to have died some time ago in Pakistan. VOA correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.

Author and journalist Peter Bergen says more than six years after the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, the hunt for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is going poorly, and his terrorist organization is showing signs of resurgence. He says the main reason that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri have not been killed or captured is that they have not made mistakes.

"Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are not making the kinds of mistakes that fugitives normally make," he said. "They are not talking on cell phones, they are not talking on satellite phones, the people in their immediate circle are not motivated by cash rewards."

Bergen said there is no evidence that bin Laden is ill, and that press reports alleging that he has kidney disease appear to be wrong, based on his appearance in videotapes. He rejected claims that bin Laden's influence is waning, saying he remains in broad ideological and strategic control of al-Qaida around the world.

"Bin Laden doesn't need to call somebody and ask for something to be done, he just releases a videotape or audio tape," he added. "These are placed on the Internet, these are some of the most widely-distributed political statements in history. Millions of people read about them, hear about them, see about them."

Bergen said he believes it is unlikely that al-Qaida will stage an attack in the United States in the next five years, but says the group could bring down a commercial airliner or attack a European city.

Robert Grenier, a former top counterterrorism officer for the CIA, agrees that bin Laden will be hard to find, and says he is likely to remain at large for years. He suspects the al-Qaida leader is taking refuge in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas on the Pakistani side of the border with Afghanistan. Grenier agrees that it is important to find bin Laden, but says there are more immediate priorities.

"I think it is actually much more important in the near term that we continue the effort to kill or capture senior lieutenants, who unlike bin Laden, probably unlike Zawahiri, are directly involved in the effort to launch terrorist attacks across the border in Afghanistan, in western Europe and perhaps much farther afield," he said.

In a related development, a U.S. intelligence official confirmed to VOA that an al-Qaida figure believed to have helped plan the 2005 subway and bus bombings in London has died.

The intelligence official, who asked to remain anonymous, said that Abu Obaidah al-Masri appears to have died of natural causes some months ago. The official says Masri died in the Afghan-Pakistan region.