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Osama bin Laden's Presence in Pakistan  'Impossible,' Says Pakistani Leader - 2002-07-01

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf is expressing doubt that al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is hiding in Pakistan without being detected. There have been reports in recent days that Osama bin Laden has taken refuge in Pakistan, after escaping the American hunt in neighboring Afghanistan.

But speaking at a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistani President Musharraf rejected the speculation and said he is not sure if the alleged terrorist leader is alive. "If he was alive, he obviously would be moving with a large entourage of his own security," Mr. Musharraf commented. "He cannot be hiding in one small corner in Pakistan in the border areas. And his remaining there without being found is almost impossible. Therefore, I think Osama bin Laden cannot be possibly in Pakistan, if he is alive."

Pakistan has deployed thousands of soldiers on its borders with Afghanistan to prevent fleeing members of the al-Qaida terror network. But reports suggest that a large number of terrorists have managed to enter Pakistan's tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

Last week, at least 10 Pakistani troops were killed in a gun battle with suspected al-Qaida fighters near the Afghan border. President Musharraf says it is possible that some people may have taken refuge with the help of local tribesmen.

"What is happening in Pakistan, really in our border areas are a few people who may be hiding around and who may even be assisted by some people," Mr. Musharraf added. "But a large body is not possible to be having sanctuary within Pakistan."

Pakistan made a public appeal Sunday for help in hunting down Osama bin Laden. The statement featured photographs of 18 al-Qaida members. Pakistan says it has captured more than 300 suspected members of al-Qaida since December.