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World - Reuters

Bin Laden at Afghan Border, Officials Tell Paper
Wed Aug 28, 9:16 AM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. commanders appear to have concluded that Osama bin Laden ( news - web sites) is moving among mountain hideouts along a 250-mile stretch of the border between Afghanistan ( news - web sites) and Pakistan, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

The newspaper cites some American officers as saying the assumption driving the manhunt is that the al Qaeda leader and his top lieutenant, Ayman al Zawahiri, are alive.

The unidentified sources cited Afghan and Pakistani intelligence reports that have spoken of bin Laden and an entourage of several dozen moving more than once since the American bombing of the Tora Bora mountains late last year, the Times reported.

Some of those reports have suggested that the fugitives may have moved through the mountains on horseback, probably on cloudy nights to elude aerial surveillance, the newspaper said.

The region being searched covers four provinces -- Kunar, Nangahar, Paktika and Paktia -- and the adjoining Pakistani tribal areas, where suspicions of outsiders run high.

A spokesman for the U.S. command, Lt. Col. Roger King, said Special Forces units in the region aimed to apply pressure on possible hideouts to keep al Qaeda on the run.

"I'd say it's a reasonable conclusion that we feel that if bin Laden is alive, we're providing enough pressure to make sure he keeps moving," King told the Times. "It's easier to spot a moving target."

In public, U.S. officials have for months been unable to confirm or deny that the al Qaeda leaders, blamed by the Washington for the Sept. 11 attacks, are alive.


The Washington Post reported Wednesday that two al Qaeda deputies are being harbored by Iran along with dozens of al Qaeda fighters and are said to be plotting new attacks, quoting unidentified Arab intelligence sources.

The Saudi Arabia-datelined story quoted intelligence sources outside the kingdom saying that Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian on the FBI ( news - web sites)'s most-wanted list, and Mahfouz Ould Walid, whom the Pentagon ( news - web sites) said was killed in Afghanistan in January, had moved up the network's hierarchy in recent months.

"There is an Iranian role in hosting al Qaeda and sponsoring the movement of al Qaeda," a senior Arab intelligence officer told the Post.

With Osama bin Laden and his chief lieutenants in hiding or dead, al-Adel and Walid have assumed operational control of al Qaeda's military committee, which directs attacks, the sources were quoted as saying.

The report said al-Adel, Walid and dozens of other al Qaeda members were staying in hotels and guesthouses in the Iranian border cities of Mashhad and Zabol.

Iran rejected the report, saying such baseless accusations should be avoided.

"It has become a bad habit of some American circles to issue repetitious and baseless charges against Iran. Those al Qaeda members are not in Iran," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Reuters.

Iran has said it has arrested and deported 150 people with suspected links to neighboring Afghanistan's ousted Taliban government and to al Qaeda who had illegally entered Iran from there.

Sixteen of the suspects were handed over to Saudi Arabia.

"Iran's policy is not to shelter al Qaeda members and to prevent such people from entering the country," Asefi said.

"We have been fighting against terrorism from the start and are still pursuing this policy," Asefi said.

However, the Post quotes its sources as saying that al-Adel and Walid meet regularly with lieutenants in Mashhad and Zabol.

Al-Adel, head of al Qaeda's security committee, was indicted in the United States on murder and conspiracy charges in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya.

Walid, a longtime bin Laden lieutenant, has played a role in developing the doctrine to justify al Qaeda attacks. The Post quoted its sources as saying Walid had assumed control of al Qaeda's religious committee and, because he is in Iran with al-Adel, was also participating in military planning.

The intelligence officers said al Qaeda had planned attacks in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf this year and also planned to kill Americans on the streets of Saudi Arabia, the newspaper reported.

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