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Bin Laden Claims to Have Nuclear Weapons - 2001-11-12

One month after U.S. forces began military action against targets in Afghanistan, chief terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants remain at large. A Pakistani journalist who recently spoke with the Saudi fugitive says he believes the bombing campaign has hurt the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Hamid Mir is the editor of the Daily Ausuf, an Urdu-language newspaper published in Islamabad. Mr. Mir is one of the few journalists to interview Osama bin Laden.

Last week, the journalist says he was blindfolded and put in the trunk of a car for a five-hour journey from Kabul to an undisclosed location. He says he spent several hours with Osama bin Laden and his top aide Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian physician who serves as Osama bin Laden's translator.

Mr. Mir says Osama bin Laden appeared healthy and defiant as Taleban anti-aircraft guns boomed nearby, but he was clearly worried about losses his al-Qaida network was taking near the then-besieged city of Mazar-e-Sharif. "When I was sitting with him I was noticing that he was trying to get the latest information about Mazar-e-Sharif every 15 minutes or so," he said. "After the interview I came to know they suffered big losses in Mazar-e-Sharif and other areas."

Mr. Mir says there was another difference between his most recent interview with the al-Qaida leader and previous encounters. "There was a lot of difference between this meeting and the last meetings," said Hamid Mir. "In previous meetings there were not too many bodyguards sitting inside the room in which he was giving the interview. This time there were more than dozen armed bodyguards who were present in the room, and all of them were Arabs. Previously I watched some Bengalis, some Indonesians, some Pakistanis around him, but this time all of them were Arabs."

The journalist says Osama bin Laden also refused to answer many of his questions. The Pakistani journalist says this never happened before, and he believes the Saudi fugitive was worried about spending too much time in one place.

Hamid Mir says Osama bin Laden did answer the question about whether he had acquired nuclear or chemical weapons. The Saudi exile replied that he had acquired such weapons and would use them if the United States attacked Afghanistan with nuclear or chemical weapons.

Since his interview was published, the editor has been engulfed in controversy, because the Urdu-language version of the interview contained no such claim by the Saudi fugitive. Producing a barely audible audiotape of his interview Mr. Mir says one can hear the bin Laden reply to his question.

Later on the barely audible tape, translator Al-Zawahiri can be heard repeating the bin Laden reply - that yes, he does have weapons of mass destruction and would use them.

Mr. Mir says he published the full version of his interview in Pakistan's English-language Dawn newspaper. But he says only part of the interview was published in the Urdu-language Daily Ausuf because he wanted to turn the Urdu-language version of the interview into a two-part series - which he subsequently did.

The Pakistani journalist says he does not believe the bin Laden group has nuclear or chemical weapons. Top U.S. officials also say they do not believe the terrorist network possesses nuclear weapons.

Mr. Mir says Osama bin Laden pays close attention to media reports about his activities, installing a dish antenna so that he can monitor news from around the world. He also says he believes Osama bin Laden is exploiting news reports about al-Qaida's attempts to obtain weapons of mass destruction in yet another attempt to terrorize the west.