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Omar Said to Escape Baghran; Feuding Tribes May Have Caused US Fatality - 2002-01-05

An intelligence official in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar says Taleban leader Mohammed Omar has apparently escaped from a village near Baghran where he was believed to have been hiding with more than a thousand fighters.

A spokesman for Kandahar's intelligence chief, Haji Gulalai, said that Taleban leader Mohammed Omar appears to have slipped away from the mountainous village near Baghran and may no longer even be in Helmand province. He said he does not know where the cleric has gone.

For days, regional anti-Taleban leaders had claimed that their forces had Mullah Omar surrounded and were negotiating for a peaceful surrender. In Kabul Friday, the interim government's foreign minister, Abdullah, confirmed that Mohammed Omar had been located and surrounded in Baghran.

Afghan and U.S. officials have dismissed earlier reports that the Taleban leader had been captured.

In eastern Afghanistan, the top military commander in Gardez the provincial capital of Paktia province says he believes that an Army special forces soldier killed in the Khost area Friday was targeted not by members of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida organization, but by feuding local warlords.

Commander Abdul Hakim Moneb says there are two tribal leaders in Khost who are vying for power. He says the American could have become unwittingly involved in a dispute and was killed during an exchange of fire between the two sides.

The Pentagon says the death of Sergeant First Class Nathan Ross Chapman was the first death of a member of the U.S. military by enemy fire in the three-month-old Afghan campaign. A CIA agent was also wounded in the attack.