The mystery surrounding Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts may finally be solved.
The al Qaeda leader and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are living comfortably in homes in northwest Pakistan under the protection of locals and members of Pakistan’s intelligence services, according to a CNN report.
“Nobody in al Qaeda is living in a cave,” an unidentified NATO official told the network.
The official said bin Laden likely has moved in recent years to an area ranging from the mountains of Chitral near the Chinese border to the Kurram Valley near Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence services Monday issued a warning that Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks in Europe, especially in France.
The U.S. issued travel alerts for Europe earlier this month.
U.S. officials say they think bin Laden and al-Zawahri are living in the rugged and lawless tribal belt that straddles the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
There is no evidence, however, to corroborate claims that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency is providing shelter to the two fugitives.
A Pakistani official on Monday denied that bin Laden or al-Zawahri are living in Pakistan.
“I categorically deny the report about the presence of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahri or even Mullah Omar in Pakistan,” Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters, referring to the spiritual leader of the Taliban.
“Bin Laden … and all other terrorists are anti-Islam and anti-Pakistan and hired assassins. If we have any information, we will take action against them,” he said.
The ISI has a history of links to militant groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including al Qaeda and the Taliban. However, Western officials and analysts say it is very hard to determine whether these ties still exist.
Jeffrey Dressler, a research analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says former ISI agents and “current elements within the Pakistani security establishment” may still be supporting the terrorists. He said there is no evidence to show that the retired agents are being run by those still in the ISI.
“Perhaps one of the advantages of having retired agents do this sort of thing is that it does have a certain plausible deniability,” Mr. Dressler said.
In August, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said bin Laden was “far buried” in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan.