Officials deny rumor that 2 bin Laden sons arrested

U.S. sources say capture of al-Qaida chief not close

March 08, 2003|By Paul Watson and Mubashir Zaidi | Paul Watson and Mubashir Zaidi,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Senior Pakistani officials sharply denied reports yesterday that U.S. forces were carrying out aggressive operations in this country's rugged border region to capture Osama bin Laden.

Rumors and disputed reports, including one that U.S. forces just across the border in southeastern Afghanistan had arrested two of bin Laden's 14 sons, followed the arrest of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, al-Qaida's alleged operations chief, who was captured in Pakistan in a predawn raid last Saturday.

In Washington, a U.S. intelligence official said yesterday that information gathered from the scene of Mohammed's arrest has been helpful and that Mohammed himself has talked "a little bit" to interrogators.

But the official said that neither bin Laden nor any of his sons is in custody and sought to quell expectations for a quick capture of the al-Qaida leader.

Afghan intelligence chief Shah Alam also denied the report about bin Laden's sons.

"Nothing has happened regarding bin Laden till now," he said last night in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

And although the latest report came out of Pakistan, presidential spokesman Maj.-Gen. Rashid Qureshi accused anonymous U.S. sources in Washington of feeding, in some cases, what he called false information to reporters.

Qureshi said he had received hundreds of phone calls Thursday night, including frantic inquiries from U.S. officials, after reports that American forces were mounting search operations in Pakistan's Baluchistan province, which borders southern Afghanistan.

"I have checked up with the intelligence agencies," he said, "and there is absolutely nothing. I don't say that sources in Washington are liars, but they are certainly not telling the truth."

The Pakistani government, a key ally in the U.S.-declared war on terror but also facing pressure from a militant Islamic segment of the population, has long denied that bin Laden is hiding in the country, and its repudiation of the reports might be an attempt to keep the al-Qaida leader at arm's length.

Reports that Mohammed had told interrogators where to find bin Laden in Pakistan "are absolutely baseless," Qureshi insisted yesterday. He said some U.S. troops are concentrating in Afghan territory along Pakistan's border but said none were active in Pakistan.

Paul Watson and Mubashir Zaidi write for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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