Frustration, disagreement over bin Laden's location

Intelligence community believes he is still alive

March 10, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Osama bin Laden's whereabouts have been a mystery since December, when U.S. eavesdroppers heard his voice in a radio intercept at Tora Bora, a mountain stronghold that was repeatedly bombed by American aircraft.

Though there is consensus in the intelligence community that the al-Qaida chief is alive, opinions differ about his location, one official said.

Recent intelligence reports indicate that bin Laden - who has been linked to the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 as well as other attacks against U.S. interests - could make another videotaped message or radio broadcast, the official said.

The fierce fighting south of Gardez between U.S. and coalition forces and hundreds al-Qaida and Taliban fighters has led to speculation that senior leaders - perhaps bin Laden himself - are in those mountains. Pentagon officials said they have no indication bin Laden is there, but they believe some senior Taliban leaders are.

Bin Laden's location has become an irritant for U.S. officials, who rarely mention his name unless asked about him.

Early in the 5-month-old war, bin Laden became the face of the terrorist threat. He has become a symbol to some of an unfinished war in Afghanistan, even though the U.S.-led coalition successfully vanquished the Taliban regime and disrupted the al-Qaida network.

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