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Bin Laden 'On The Run,' US Official Says - 2004-02-28


A top U.S. anti-terrorism official says al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden is on the run, amid what officials say is an intensifying hunt for fugitive members of the terror network. The U.S. official says he believes Osama bin Laden will be captured soon.

Ambassador J. Cofer Black, coordinator for the State Department counter-terrorism office, say the United States and its allies will find Osama bin Laden.

"I feel confident that it will be sooner rather than later, although I'm not going to speculate on the exact date," he said.

In an interview with VOA, Ambassador Black said the United States knows Osama bin Laden is still in touch with other al-Qaida leaders, though on a limited basis.

"[The contacts are] infrequent, imperfect, but he still has contact. He has some limited form of contact," he said.

The U.S. government has blamed Osama bin Laden and his organization for the terror attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001.

Ambassador Black says that, although Osama bin Laden still evidently takes a role in planning al-Qaida operations, the majority of his focus is now spent avoiding capture.

"He's on the run. He's hiding. He spends most of his time trying to keep from getting caught," he said.

Mr. Black was in Islamabad Saturday, meeting with Pakistani counterparts to discuss anti-terrorism issues.

Pakistan launched a military operation Tuesday aimed at flushing out suspected foreign terrorists in the semi-autonomous South Waziristan agency.

On Saturday, the Pakistan military says one of its checkpoints in the South Waziristan capital of Wana engaged in an early morning shootout with an unknown vehicle.

Eleven people were reportedly killed in the incident, including civilian bystanders.

Military officials report 16 arrests following the incident, and say an investigation is under way.

The military says the firefight coincided with a mortar attack on their forces in Wana.

South Waziristan is located along the Afghan-Pakistani border, where Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding.