Pakistani soldiers raid alleged al-Qaida hide-outs

Arab networks air tapes by top bin Laden deputy

February 25, 2004|By Liz Sly | Liz Sly,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistani troops backed by helicopter gunships detained 20 people yesterday in raids against suspected al-Qaida hide-outs in a remote tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

On a day when two Arab television stations aired messages attributed to Osama bin Laden's top deputy, Pakistani officials said that no known operatives of bin Laden's network were among those captured.

Most were local tribesmen suspected of harboring al-Qaida fighters, though officials said there might have been "a few foreigners" among them, a reference to al-Qaida fighters possibly hiding in the area.

The operation comes after heightened U.S. pressure on Pakistan to do more to help in a re-energized hunt for bin Laden and his supporters in the mountainous terrain straddling the border with Afghanistan.

As the raids got under way, two Arab television stations broadcast audiotapes purportedly featuring the voice of Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's top lieutenant, who is among those thought to be hiding out in the frontier region.

On one tape, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, a voice attributed to al-Zawahiri taunts President Bush with references to his State of the Union speech last month in which Bush said two-thirds of al-Qaida had been destroyed.

The other tape, aired on Dubai-based Al-Arabiya, criticizes France's ban on headscarves worn by Muslim girls in schools.

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