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FBI Director Not Sure Whether bin Laden is Dead or Alive - 2002-01-24

The director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation says he is unsure if anyone knows whether al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is dead or alive.

FBI director, Robert Mueller, is in Pakistan discussing the U.S.-led anti-terrorism war in neighboring Afghanistan. Speaking to reporters in Islamabad, Mr. Mueller said his discussions with Pakistani leaders focused on efforts to prevent new terrorist attacks.

He praised them for "aggressively" finding and detaining members of Osama bin Laden's alleged terrorist network, al-Qaida. But the FBI director says he is unsure if anyone knows whether Mr. Bin Laden is dead or alive.

"I think there's some ideas or some discussions as to whether or not he has survived either the bombing or his medical condition. I am not certain that anybody knows for sure either where Osama bin Laden is, or as to whether he is still alive," he said.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview last week that the Saudi-born terror mastermind had a kidney ailment. In his words, Mr. Bin Laden may have died if he was unable to get dialysis treatment during the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan.

FBI Director Mueller says he is unaware whether members of al-Qaida have begun fleeing in large numbers through Afghanistan's western border with Iran.

"I think we are worried about al-Qaida operatives bleeding through Iran and to the extent that there can be something done about that. I am sure that there are others in the American government undertaking discussions with those who deal with Iran to ensure that that does not happen," he said.

Reports say that Iran has reinstated visa requirements in recent days to prevent al-Qaida from using the Iranian territory as an escape route.

Mr. Mueller said that since the terrorist attacks in September, security at U.S. airports has been increased. He says further measures have been introduced after a British citizen, Richard Reid, allegedly tried to blow up a passenger plane with a bomb in his shoes.

"Anybody who goes to our airports in the future will have their shoes looked at more closely than they have been in the past. My daughter has come through with shoes that are fairly tall and in the wake of Richard Reid, had those closely looked at," he said.

Mr. Mueller has said that since the attacks in the United States on September 11, Pakistan has gone further than any country in supporting the war on terrorism. He called the cooperation unprecedented.