Bin Laden reported seen near Jalalabad

Al-Qaida chief said to be at fortified camp last week

War On Terrorism

November 25, 2001|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JALALABAD, Afghanistan - Osama bin Laden was seen last week at a large and well-fortified encampment 35 miles southwest of this city, a minister of the self-proclaimed government here said yesterday.

The official, Hazarat Ali, the law and order minister for the Eastern Shura, which claims dominion over three major provinces in eastern Afghanistan, said trusted informants had told him that bin Laden was spotted near Tora Bora, a village where two valleys meet in deep mountains in Nangarhar province.

"We have some people who told us that three or four days ago, Osama bin Laden was in Tora Bora," Ali said. "I trust them like my mother or father."

"He is moving at night on horseback," he said, citing his informants. "At night, he sleeps in caves."

Overlooking the village of Tora Bora is a large network of mountain caves and forts used by the Afghan rebels who fought the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Eastern Shura commanders say operatives of al-Qaida, bin Laden's organization, paid the villagers of Tora Bora $50 a family to vacate the village weeks ago.

Ali's lieutenants say as many as 2,000 foreign fighters are at Tora Bora too, armed with rifles, machine guns and surface-to-surface missiles. He described the fighters as "experienced and suicidal."

Ali's intelligence chief, Sohrab Qadri, said the Tora Bora encampment lay along a ridge of the White Mountains and could not be easily reached except on horseback. It includes a network of caves, bunkers and ammunition depots, he said, and is sheltered by deep forests. The Afghan rebels who fought the Soviets wintered there over several years, he said, and he assumed that the caves included heating and ventilation systems.

The reported sighting of bin Laden might lead to an increased U.S. presence in and around Jalalabad, which is precisely what the Eastern Shura commanders would like to see. They are eager to get their hands on U.S. weapons and materiel to help them shore up their week-old government.

Ali said it was possible that bin Laden would "slip into Pakistan" if Tora Bora came under heavy attack. Other Eastern Shura commanders said bin Laden was taking shelter early last month at a farm in Nangarhar province owned by Yunis Khalis, a commander of Afghan rebels in the 1980s who was closely allied with the Taliban.

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